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Published: Tuesday, 10/12/2010

Ohio shines in 2 solar categories, but jobs lag

BY SHEENA HARRISON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Ohio is among the top five states for solar module production and installation, but it isn't among the top 10 states in terms of numbers of solar jobs, according to recent reports from two industry trade groups.

In a report released Tuesday, the Solar Energy Industries Association said Ohio ranked fifth in the nation for solar power installations during the first half of 2010.

Ohio installed 16.5 megawatts of solar systems in the first half of 2010, about 5 percent of the U.S. market for solar power during that period.

California, New Jersey, Arizona, and Florida were the top states for solar installation during the first six months of the year, according to the report.

Ohio ranked second in the nation, behind Oregon, for solar module production during the first half of the year.

Michigan ranked fifth, the association said. It declined to provide specific numbers for each state.

Ohio's production ranking was bolstered by projects from Toledo-born First Solar Inc., said Shayle Kann, managing director of solar research for GTM Research, the firm that helped produce the association's industry report.

Tom Kimbis, director of policy and research for the solar association, said the production rankings could change should production ramp up in other states, such as California, during the second half of this year.

The organization's report was released at a Solar Power International conference this week in Los Angeles.

While its production and installation rankings were strong, Ohio was not among the top 10 states in terms of solar industry jobs, according to a report released today by the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit in Washington that focuses on solar power research and education.

California ranked first with 36,000 jobs, while Michigan was fourth with 6,300 solar jobs. The report did not list the number of solar jobs in Ohio.

Mr. Kimbis, who also is chairman of the Solar Foundation, said the job numbers were based on survey responses from about 2,400 solar companies nationwide. He said some Ohio companies may not have responded to the query, which might have affected the state's solar employment count and ranking.

Mr. Kimbis said he did not know which companies participated in the survey. "You can only essentially rely on the data of those who have responded," he said.

For several years, local and state economic development officials have offered a "soft" estimate of about 6,000 solar industry jobs in northwest Ohio. The number was based on a 2005 study commissioned by the Toledo Regional Growth Partnership, said John Gibney, a growth partnership spokesman.

Mr. Gibney said the growth partnership's numbers included Toledo area companies directly related to the solar industry, including First Solar's factory in Perrysburg Township, Xunlight Corp. in Toledo, and suppliers to those firms.

The work of some suppliers may not be considered solar jobs in the traditional sense, Mr. Gibney said. "Everyone defines it differently. It's the biggest guessing game in the country," he said.

The Solar Foundation's report mirrors a September, 2009, report by the research firm SRI International, which found about 3,200 people employed in northwest Ohio's photovoltaic cluster, including manufacturers, specialized suppliers, and service suppliers.

In March, The Blade published a three-day series showing that Ohio experienced early success in the solar industry at the University of Toledo and First Solar, but had lost out on thousands of solar manufacturing jobs in the last few years to states offering more lucrative incentives and stronger product markets for solar companies.

Because of state government subsidies and more solar consumers, California, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have attracted dozens of solar manufacturing operations over the last few years.

Contact Sheena Harrison at:

sharrison@theblade.com

or 419-724-6103.



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