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Solar After Solyndra

As Solyndra goes to bankruptcy court today, the Solar Power International conference in Dallas this week brings together the largest gathering of green energy professionals in an industry facing a different sort of glaring heat.

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Cheaper prices for solar panels out of China have made it very difficult for U.S. manufacturers to compete. Taxpayers are questioning the billions in federal loan guarantees for solar projects. Many firms at SPI in Dallas are on this list of the Department of Energy's loan program.

Yet the industry says that despite its well publicized failures, solar jobs are increasing. In many cases, though, these new jobs are for construction and installation.

The Solar Foundation released data Monday saying that U.S. solar power jobs grew 6.8 percent in the last year, to just over 100,000 — "significantly higher than the 2 percent net job loss in fossil fuel power generation and the economy-wide expansion of 0.7 percent growth over the same period," according to the group.

California maintained its top position with one in four solar power jobs. Over the next year, the entire industry expects to add another 24,000 positions.

Who's expanding?

Companies such as Sungevity, which installs solar panels and provides financing, growing to 300 employees by the end of the year from only 60 two years ago. Sungevity says its hiring "displaced workers" from real estate, retail, and finance.

Hemlock Semiconductor is building a manufacturing facility in Tennessee, investing more than $1 billion. So far, 90 percent of jobs created there are construction-related.

The job numbers are minuscule in terms of the overall economy, though not to the people who land them. The Solar Foundation speaks of "tremendous optimism by employers" about growing in 2012. However, it said, "Employers expressed similar optimism last year, but failed to meet their hiring expectations because of stalled legislative initiatives and continued policy uncertainty."

Correction: The original version of this story stated erroneously that all the jobs created in Hemlock's Tennessee facility are construction-related.

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