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We need to position state for 'green jobs'

By Gov. Phil Bredesen
The Tennessean
We need to position state for 'green jobs'

Gov. Phil Bredesen

Last Monday, it was my privilege to join the CEOs of Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning in Clarksville to announce Hemlock's decision to invest $1.2 billion in a new facility in Tennessee for the manufacture of polycrystalline silicon, a primary component in the construction of solar panels and other electronic devices.

Following the announcement, company officials presented me with a small paperweight for my desk, a Lucite cylinder with shining gray flakes of polysilicon, as it's called, suspended in the center. It's hard to imagine such a simple material could play such an important role in Tennessee's future, but creating polysilicon in such a pure form is an energy intensive process requiring complex and expensive technology and a highly skilled work force. Hemlock's Tennessee facility will initially employ 500 workers, but could easily grow to 800 or 900 within a decade.

In the end, the unit of energy used to create pure polysilicon will result in the manufacture of a solar panel that will produce many times the energy used to create it. It's no wonder that as the price of fossil fuels grow and limits on carbon emissions become more restrictive, companies are turning to renewable energy sources like solar and wind to lower their costs and increase efficiency.

Companies are ready to invest

Last October, I convened a summit of experts in this industry sector in Knoxville to discuss ways Tennessee can move to the forefront of clean energy job creation. These experts estimated that companies around the world invested more than $148 billion in technology last year to generate energy from renewable sources — and they're predicting continued strong growth as the price of oil fluctuates. That's why Tennessee should take steps now to position itself as a leader in the creation of these "green-collar" jobs.

There was a lot of talk about green-collar job creation in the recent presidential election, and it's easy to dismiss the concept as political rhetoric, but my discussions with leaders of companies like Hemlock Semiconductor and others convince me the potential for job growth is very real. In fact, the demand for polysilicon to manufacture photovoltaic solar cells has been growing by 30 percent to 40 percent a year.

To be a true leader in the clean-energy technology sector, Tennessee will have to train thousands of workers in the skills needed by companies like Hemlock. That's why the state is partnering with Austin Peay State University in Clarksville to develop curricula and build training facilities for these higher-skilled, good-paying jobs.

When Eastman Chemical in Kingsport agreed to a $1.3 billion dollar capital investment to retool facilities there last year, a similar partnership with Northeast State Technical Community College was an important part of the state's commitment to providing the company with skilled workers.

Investing in people and infrastructure is essential to our ability to continue attracting a range of jobs — including green-collar ones. Tennessee has made tremendous strides over the past six years by increasing funding in K-12 education and raising education standards as well as expanding the budget for training adult workers, but we still have work to do.

Announcements like Hemlock's have gotten the attention of the renewable- energy sector. Let's take the steps necessary to move from a single announcement to the development of an entire industry in Tennessee.

Phil Bredesen is governor of Tennessee.

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