Advocates talk a lot about how renewable energy is not just good for the environment, but good for the economy as well. And here is some real-world proof: New Mexico, with strong leadership by Gov. Richardson, PRC Commissioners Lujan and Marks, and many others, has done more than most to establish the full suite of policies necessary to build a solar market. And the reward? Schott AG is investing $100 million in a new manufacturing facility outside of Albuquerque. It will initially employ 350 people, which could grow to 1,500. Good stuff, and congrats to New Mexico.

But lookie here at what Schott has to say about what it will take to get to the higher end of the projected jobs numbers:

But the company, as well as other experts in the solar energy industry, caution that such growth will hinge on cooperation from the federal government, particularly the extension of a key tax credit set to decline substantially this year.

“When we say the facility is projected to grow up to 1,500 people and all the numbers we gave, one of the key things we need to have happen is the support from the federal government to keep the industry growing,” said Brian Lynch, a spokesman for Schott North America, one of the subsidiaries of Schott AG of Mainz, Germany.

The federal 30 percent solar investment tax credit is set to expire at the end of 2008. And with it, the fevered hopes of the solar industry — not to mention all those who prefer a cooler planet.

You may recall that the effort to include a long-term extension in the 2007 energy bill failed by one vote (ironically, the opposition was lead in large part by New Mexico’s own Senator Domenici). There will be another run at it this spring, before the election sucks all the air out of Washington. But make no mistake — solar has enjoyed phenomenal growth and is poised to enter the mainstream. The failure to extend the tax credit at this critical juncture will result in a cratering of the U.S. market, and global solar companies will send their product and investment resources elsewhere. The country cannot afford to let this happen.