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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar talks renewable energy in Richmond

on October 15, 2010

From the roof of SunPower Systems, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar surveyed Richmond’s solar industry – and liked what he saw.

“Impressive, and the wave of the future,” he said, looking around the massive facility, which, with its high-walled spaces filled with natural light, was more reminiscent of an aircraft hangar than a manufacturing plant. “Light on the land and creating the pathway for the energy future for country.  I’m very impressed.”

Secretary Salazar spent part of the afternoon at the Richmond-based solar solutions company, located adjacent to the Craneway Pavilion on the Richmond waterfront.

Salazar was impressed by SunPower's facilities; CEO Tom Werner (right) plays tour guide at the Richmond plant.

Joined by Representative George Miller (D-CA) , Salazar explored the manufacturing floor where T5 solar roof panels are constructed, and inspected the roof of the facility where SunPower gets much of its own energy.

One of the major challenges facing the Department of the Interior – which is in charge of managing one-fifth of the American landmass and encompasses the National Parks, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Geological Survey – is decreasing American dependence on foreign oil.

CEO Tom Werner said that alongside renewable energies, job growth was the theme of the Secretary’s visit. Many of the Secretary’s questions and comments over the course of the visit were concerned with job creation during these lackluster economic times.

”The question came up probably six times,” Werner said of his conversation with Miller and Salazar.

Secretary Salazar (center) and Representative Miller (left) are shown the manufacturing plant where SunPower's T-5 solar panels are made.

For Werner, the visit was the chance to show how his company represented real opportunities to create some of those jobs.

Despite California’s struggling economy, SunPower has grown in recent years, creating 300 jobs this year alone, with a revenue growth of 35 percent. A new facility planned in the South Bay would allow the company to triple the number of its employees.

California leads the country in green job growth, according to a study by Next 10, a non-profit that examines intersections of economy and environment. Between 1995 and 2008, the green jobs in manufacturing increased by 19 percent statewide. The boost in green technologies has been the most pronounced in the Bay Area, with green manufacturing surging 55 percent over the thirteen-year period.

For Werner, it’s all about the local implications of national energy objectives.

“How can his department make solar real in practical ways? And the key is: at the same time, create jobs.”

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