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Welcome to Austin, SunPower

Friday, December 10, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Environmental activist Paul Robbins drew a laugh in Council chambers last night when he said he wanted to surprise everyone by supporting something.


Of course, that something was the city’s economic incentive agreement with San Jose-based SunPower Corp. The company, which creates solar energy cells, is expected to create an operations center with 450 employees in the clean energy industry in Austin, a sector that the city and chamber have long coveted.


“Council, I wanted to surprise you tonight by supporting something,” said Robbins, drawing laughter. “Thank you for bringing green jobs to Austin, Council. There’s no punch line here. I’m quite serious.”


Robbins, the long-time activist, reminded Council of local opposition to expansion of the South Texas Nuclear Plant and support of clean energy sources. Finally, the city would reap some rewards from that decades-old opposition.


The 10-year economic development grant provides SunPower with $233 per created job. All told, the incentive is expected to cost the city $901,710. The average salary for the company is expected to be $70,000.


Council didn’t expect much opposition and got none over the agreement.


“Let me just say, speaking for myself, I’m very proud to have SunPower become part of our community, and I look forward to seeing you around Austin often and seeing you even at City Council if you care to join us,” Mayor Lee Leffingwell said as he opened the hearing on the incentive offer.


Tim Crowley of Opportunity Austin, the chamber’s economic development arm, praised the investment, calling it the kind of company, in the right industry, with the right type of jobs, that the chamber had agreed to attract to Austin when Opportunity Austin was created back in 2004.


Russell Smith of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association joined Crowley in praising the addition of SunPower. Smith called it “a major coup” and an anchor to Austin’s new solar energy business sector.


No one spoke in opposition to the agreement. The agreement passed on a vote of 5-0 with Council Members Bill Spelman and Sheryl Cole off the dais.

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