The year 2010 began with hope that Sacramento's green-tech sector could jump-start the region's economic recovery. In May, Mayor Kevin Johnson launched his Green Initiative:
Johnson: "Let's transform Sacramento into the Emerald Valley."
Sierra Pacific Crew Chief: "SunPower."
Back in January, we met Jim Ridgley on his first day at a new job. After a career in conventional construction and electrical work, then months of unemployment, Ridgley had just been hired by a Rancho Cordova solar company.
Ridgley: "They're showing parts and pieces I've never seen in my 10-plus years of just doing electrical. Going from the commercial side to the green side, it's a whole nother ballgame."
Eleven months later, as he designs the layout for a rooftop solar system in Lincoln, Ridgley is thriving.
Ridgley: "It's a great company. They really take care of their employees, and with that, there's good opportunity - and I think I have a lot to offer to continue myself here."
Ben: "We're on what appears to be
the tallest house on the tallest hill in this entire
subdivision. Jim Ridgley here is trying to figure out where
he's going to place the solar panels."
Ridgley: "I'm basically confirming the orientation of the roof layout in reference to the sun."
ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTY, LACK OF FINANCING SLOW GREEN-TECH GROWTH
Ridgley's company, Sierra Pacific Home and Comfort, has hired eight new employees this year - a 10 percent increase. But President Jason Hanson says he could've added even more. Hanson says many homeowners are interested in putting solar panels on their roof - but the up-front cost is too steep.
Hanson: "Either they have the resources and they don't want to remove those resources from wherever they're safe-harbored right now, or the loan is not as attractive as they want it to be. So they sit."
It's kind of like the chicken-and-egg quandary. Hanson's business can't grow without an economic recovery - but the economy can't recover without Hanson's new hires. Except … Hanson's business could grow - if homeowners could get better loans. A state program called PACE was intended to help with financing. It would've allowed homeowners to repay up-front loans through an annual surcharge on their property taxes - but it stalled.
Burrows: "We would have seen a significant jump in jobs if the PACE funding had been available."
Julia Burrows is the project manager for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson's Green Initiative.
Burrows: "We heard from Beutler and Solar Power Inc. and a number of companies that had hired up, ready to launch this summer. They hired people, and tried to keep them. I think in some cases, they did have to let them go."
There's another reason the entire state's green-tech sector may have been sluggish this year - political uncertainty. Burrows says companies may have waited for the outcome of the governor's race, and to see whether voters suspended California's greenhouse gas emissions law.
Finally, there's one area where the Sacramento region faces a clear disadvantage compared to the Bay Area and Southern California. Sanjay Varshney is the dean of the business school at Sacramento State:
Varshney: "The green-tech sector requires tremendous infusion of private capital. We are not able to do that in Sacramento because we don't have as much venture capital available to that sector."
Sacramento does have its strengths. Local green-tech boosters point to progressive utilities like SMUD and PG&E; strong job training programs at UC Davis, Sac State and the region's community colleges; and the influence of being in the state capital. But Varshney says a state report out last month shows less than three percent of the Sacramento-area's total jobs are green jobs - half a point below the state average.
Varshney: "It shows that we are not being very competitive compared to the rest of the state and we are not being competitive compared to the rest of the country."
Jason Hanson with Sierra Pacific Home and Comfort says all the green-tech hype is great for marketing - but isn't enough to kick-start the green economy.
Hanson: "They talk about it a lot, but they don't know how to actually make it go much faster. And it goes faster mostly with the ability to get people funded for loans."
Burrows: "We are positioned for this to happen. It just didn't happen as fast as we had hoped."
Julia Burrows with the mayor's Green Initiative says Johnson will unveil his "regional action plan" at his State of the City address next month. She says volunteers have spent thousands of hours laying the framework for green-tech growth.
Burrows: "We just need to get the investment dollars and figure out the financing, and then we're gonna go."