You may have never heard of Wixom, Mich., but one day soon, you might be counting on the city to power your house or car. Two companies dealing in alternative energy, Xtreme Power and Clairvoyant Energy, will soon manufacture high efficiency solar panels and energy storage systems at the location of the former Wixom Ford Plant. This is excellent news for Michigan as the state struggles to get back on its feet after the decimation of much of its traditional manufacturing base. New energy projects are a great way to kick-start the state economy, and the state legislature should continue to push for more of these.

In 2007, the Wixom Ford Plant closed after 50 years, eliminating about a 1,000 jobs. But last week, Texas-based Xtreme Power and Clairvoyant Energy out of California announced a plan to redevelop the 320-acre site into an energy park housing new manufacturing plants by 2011. The project is expected to cost $725 million but will receive $100 million in tax breaks from the state. The new factories will produce environmentally friendly solar panels and storage batteries and are expected to directly create 4,000 jobs, as well as indirectly support other state industries like the glass industry.

On a national level, the park is part of a necessary movement for cleaner energy. The age of dependence on non-renewable, carbon-emission-producing oil and unhealthy fossil fuels is coming to an end — the rising demand for fuel-efficient vehicles is evidence of that. Solar panels and storage batteries are a vital component of renewable energy and efficiency, and that’s the direction the country is headed.

But renewable energy options are particularly important for Michigan, because they help diversify our staggering economy. Gov. Jennifer Granholm has been advocating this point for years, focusing specifically on increasing the wind and solar energy industries — with good reason. Alternative energy is a growing industry, and with the creation of the Wixom energy park, Michigan has the opportunity to be a leader in this field. The state desperately needs to move beyond its traditional base of heavy manufacturing, and being at the forefront of the clean energy movement will spell success for the state economy.

The energy park will also directly benefit Wixom residents, creating much-needed jobs in a state with the highest unemployment rate in the country — about 15 percent, according to the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth. four thousand jobs might seem like nothing, but the industry should grow, and with it, attract more jobs.

The costs can hardly be compared to the benefits for the generations to come — the state’s $100 million investment should pay large dividends. The energy park should serve as a successful paradigm for future endeavors in solar and renewable power. Now if only the legislature can follow up the Wixom plant with an even greater push for clean energy, Michigan can truly join the 21st century as a leader in the field.

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