By Ezra Drissman
With so many people out of work, bold and creative ideas are needed to revive floundering economies. This is particularly true in Detroit, where recent figures show some areas suffer from 14 percent unemployment.
As an engineering hub and manufacturing powerhouse, Detroit has a chance to develop a solution that could be sold all over the United States. There’s no better place to start than here.
The idea is to get more solar panels on homes and businesses. Lessening the load on polluting energy sources is a much-needed idea in Michigan, which produces 60 to 65 percent of its electricity from coal.
To kick things off, local counties and/or the state government should provide low-interest loans to install solar panels. These loans should be at 15 to 30 years and be at no more than 2 percent interest. The law should stipulate how much electricity the panels must replace, say 75 percent of a structure’s use.
The goal of the program should be participation among 10 percent of the residents of the tri-county Detroit area. This would be over 350,000 households.
If these numbers are reached, it will take millions of tons of carbon and smog out of the air. As a result, the money saved on public health would be considerable. It will also have a significant economic impact on a downtrodden area: creating more jobs.
A boom in solar energy will have a positive effect on construction and engineering sectors, two industries that have been hit the hardest. As the car industry collapsed, so did housing. This combination created a brutal realization for many workers — unemployment. New work would be a boon to the region’s certified electricians and builders. Jobs will also be created in sales, marketing and other support services.
Those who need new skills can readily be retrained at local community colleges. Therefore, the loan program would also create local teaching jobs for some unemployed engineers.
Another aspect to consider is the money savings to participant homeowners and businesses. The easiest way to get an economy going is to put money that people already have back into their pockets. Homeowners will have extra cash each month due to lowered electricity bills.
Metro Detroit should lead in this area. Over time, it may be able to export the ideas and innovations to others.
Ezra Drissman is the Manager for EcoGreen Ventures, Inc. Started in 2007, the company now runs three informational green sites: GreenCareersGuide.com, Eco20-20.com and GreatGreenIdea.com. Ezra attained his bachelor’s in Public Affairs from Wayne State University. He has been interviewed as a solar jobs expert on Voice of Russia and other media outlets.
Brian Clark Howard is a writer and editor with NationalGeographic.com. He was formerly an editor at The Daily Green and E/The Environmental Magazine and has contributed to many publications, including TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, MailOnline.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN and elsewhere. His latest book, with Kevin Shea, is Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.