A thought-provoking phone call—jobs

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

We received a phone call from Bil Becker, an early advocate of renewable energy and the creator of a unique wind generator. He relocated to Lake County, was renewing his membership in the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA), and plans to participate in the Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair Aug. 13-14 this year.

He recently visited the Wanxiang facility in Rockford and was impressed with the plant and the firm’s management. He has been installing hybrid wind and photovoltaic systems and is excited about the prospect of installing panels assembled in Illinois. He likes the efficiency ratings of their panels, feels their prices are competitive and appreciates their 25-year warranty. He uses a new mounting rack that sets on a building roof without penetrating it.

The panels he had been using came with only a 20-year warranty, and when the firm automated its production process, some quality control problems developed. He found about one in 10 panels had voltage levels lower than specified. While the substandard ones were replaced, he still experienced installation delays and additional labor costs. The more efficient process lowered panel costs, but it also eliminated roughly half the jobs at the out-of-state facility.

Becker indicated a need to train more electricians to install solar systems as utilities are requiring a certified electrician to sign off on an installation to assure it meets safety and other code requirements.

We had just returned from a trip to the Fountain Prairie Inn and Farms in Wisconsin, where a wind system installer checked on a newly-installed wind turbine from British Columbia originally designed for 35 kilowatts but upgraded to 50 kilowatts. Newly-designed blades also replaced those with flaws.

The tower came from China, and the owner thinks the towers and generators should be made in the United States. At the Madison farmers’ market, he comes in contact with many intelligent, well-educated, ambitious young men and women unable to find work who have the skills to design and build sustainable systems.

Federal policies continue to support the outsourcing of jobs, leaving people to wonder how our economy can recover when outsourcing, accelerating automation, Wall Street speculation, multiple wars, damaging tax policies and gutting educational programs rule the day.

Robert Reich, former President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, believes the economy will never recover until consumers have money to spend. Paul Craig Roberts, a Ronald Reagan administration assistant treasurer, indicates there is no economic recovery because so much of the U.S. economy has been outsourced. John Williams of Shadow Statistics includes long-term discouraged workers in his figures and reports unemployment rates still exceed 20 percent.

There is some good local news on the job front with the arrival of rail car manufacturer Nippon Sharyl in Rochelle, which will create additional job opportunities in the supply chain.

Other local efforts to rebuild our economy along sustainable lines exist. Workshops offered by the IREA and community colleges, the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair and projects at Freedom Field provide some ideas of how it can be done.

We need—and welcome—your participation and support in these efforts.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the March 16-22, 2011, issue

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