Warner talks solar policy with local company

Solar companies that use products made in China have a huge advantage over competitors that try to go American.

The difference in price on a large project, said Shawn Cooke, the chief technology officer at Sigora Solar in Waynesboro, could be in the thousands of dollars.

“It can be harder to compete, but we try to get people to understand that it’s not only an American product, but it really is a better product, the panels that we use that are made here in the States,” said Cooke, talking solar policy with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, who was in Waynesboro last week to tour the Waynesboro YMCA, which is installing the largest thermal-solar project in the state of Virginia.

Warner seemed pleasantly surprised to learn that Sigora goes out of its way to buy American. The senator also expressed concern that American companies are falling behind because the Chinese government has aggressively backed its own solar companies with state subsidies, while U.S. government policy in the solar arena has been inconsistent at best.

“There’s a lot of talk about uncertainty in the solar-energy market. This is what creates uncertainty in the solar-energy market. You cannot make a business model just hoping that everything is going to be alright,” Sigora president Andy Bindea said.

“We know that no industry can just be subsidized forever, but it’s really moving things forward,” Cooke said. “This is good technology, and it’s getting cheaper, and as it gets more widespread, the costs will go down even more.”

Warner pointed out that U.S. government policy still provides a number of subsidies and tax incentives to the oil and gas industry, “and that was one of the reasons we were able to develop it here in this country.”

“We’ve got to do the same for solar. Somebody’s going to own this business. And why not have America own a piece of it, as opposed to the Chinese,” Warner said.

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