Green jobs aren’t grow­ing as Obama promised

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

The green-jobs rev­o­lu­tion may be go­ing up in smoke.

De­spite bil­lions of dol­lars in fed­eral in­vest­ment and cheer­lead­ing from Pres­i­dent Obama, even the most ar­dent sup­port­ers of a trans­formed, job-gen­er­at­ing en­ergy sec­tor based largely on wind, so­lar and other re­new­able sources ac­knowl­edge that their dreams have not trans­lated into re­al­ity. The records for other coun­tries chas­ing green em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties have been equally unim­pres­sive.

Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, told MSNBC last month that, de­spite im­pas­sioned sup­port from lib­eral Democrats and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, “green jobs” ini­tia­tives “have been about a lot of talk, and not a lot has been hap­pen­ing on that.”

The ab­sence of a promised boom in en­vi­ron­men­tal jobs has be­come a talk­ing point among Repub­li­cans who are cam­paign­ing to un­seat Mr. Obama in the 2012 elec­tion.

Mr. Obama “keeps talk­ing about green jobs,” former Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney said dur­ing the GOP can­di­dates de­bate Sept. 7. “Where are they? Let’s have real jobs.”

Talk of green jobs was con­spic­u­ous by its ab­sence from Mr. Obama’s jobs speech to a joint ses­sion of Congress on Sept. 8. He gave the ad­dress on the same day that the FBI raided Cal­i­for­nia so­lar-en­ergy com­pany Solyn­dra, which filed for bank­ruptcy and laid off at least 900 full-time em­ploy­ees.

Two years ago, Solyn­dra was awarded a $535 mil­lion fed­eral govern­ment loan as part of Mr. Obama’s stim­u­lus pack­age. It is un­clear how — or whether — the com­pany will re­pay its debt or whether it will leave Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers hold­ing the bag. A House com­mit­tee has sched­uled a hear­ing this week to look into the in­vest­ment.

Solyn­dra was the lat­est in a string of so­lar bankrupt­cies this year. Oth­ers are New York-based Spec­traWatt and Michi­gan’s Ev­er­green So­lar.

Crit­ics aren’t sur­prised. Spain and other Euro­pean coun­tries have em­braced green-jobs pro­grams only to see high­erthan-ex­pected costs and lit­tle pay­off. A 2009 study by Madrid’s King Juan Car­los Univer­sity found that the cre­ation of ev­ery green job elim­i­nated at least 2.2 jobs in other in­dus­tries, the re­sult of a govern­ment push to­ward wind and so­lar power at the ex­pense of other fu­els.

Some tra­di­tional-fuel com­pa­nies left the coun­try in fa­vor of more level play­ing fields else­where, the re­port says.

“But amaz­ingly enough, this de­bate is not over,” said Daniel Kish, se­nior vice pres­i­dent for pol­icy at the In­sti­tute for En­ergy Re­search, a non­profit en­ergy-re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion. Mr. Kish also served more than 25 years on var­i­ous con­gres­sional com­mit­tees that deal with en­ergy, in­clud­ing six years as chief of staff for Repub­li­cans on the House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee.

Mr. Kish and many oth­ers think largescale wind and so­lar projects are in­her­ently un­prof­itable, largely as a re­sult of the un­pre­dictabil­ity of when the sun will shine brightly enough and when the wind will blow. With­out govern­ment sub­si­dies, he said, such projects would have no chance of com­pet­ing with oil, nat­u­ral gas, nu­clear power or coal.

“This is a govern­ment-cre­ated bub­ble. I don’t blame the com­pa­nies try­ing to rip off the govern­ment. What I blame are politi­cians who refuse to look at the facts,” he said.

Both sides of the ar­gu­ment point to a dizzy­ing ar­ray of numbers, charts, graphs and price fig­ures to sup­port their points of view. En­vi­ron­men­tal groups and wind and so­lar pro­po­nents strongly dis­pute the King Juan Car­los study and have ac­cused its author, Dr. Gabriel Calzada, of dis­tort­ing the truth.

Seth Ma­sia, deputy editor of So­lar To­day, a pub­li­ca­tion of the Amer­i­can So­lar En­ergy So­ci­ety, told The Washington Times that so­lar-panel in­stal­la­tions grew 113 per­cent last year and the in­dus­try ex­pects to ex­pand 5.7 per­cent to 40 per­cent each year through 2020. The wind in­dus­try has grown more than 10 per­cent an­nu­ally for the past five years, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Wind En­ergy As­so­ci­a­tion. It now has man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties in 43 states, and the U.S. has gone from pro­duc­ing 25 per­cent of tur­bines used do­mes­ti­cally to 60 per­cent in the past sev­eral years, said Robert Gram­lich, the as­so­ci­a­tion’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of pub­lic pol­icy.

Com­pli­cat­ing the de­bate is that there is no uni­ver­sally ac­cepted def­i­ni­tion of a “green job.” While most con­sider green jobs to be those in the wind or so­lar in­dus­try, Mr. Kish said, some es­ti­mates in­clude garbage col­lec­tors, pol­lu­tion-con­trol engi- neers and water and sewer work­ers in the equa­tion.

“I’m not aware of any for­mal def­i­ni­tion,” said Anas­ta­sia V. Shcherbakova, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of en­ergy eco­nomics, risk and pol­icy at Penn State Univer­sity.

Re­new­able-en­ergy pro­po­nents say their in­dus­tries pro­duce ben­e­fits be­yond job cre­ation. Mr. Gram­lich pointed to the lo­cal prop­erty-tax rev­enue gen­er­ated by wind farms, along with roy­alty pay­ments to own­ers who lease land for the gi­ant wind­mills.

In that re­gard, wind en­ergy has some­thing in com­mon with the boom­ing nat­u­ral-gas in­dus­try, a sec­tor that some de­cry as the an­tithe­sis of clean, re­new­able fu­els. Mr. Gram­lich, how­ever, said he doesn’t view oil, gas or coal as the en­emy.

“It’s clear that some view us as the threat­en­ing, dis­rup­tive com­pe­ti­tion, and they’re fight­ing us for that rea­son,” he said. “But we have a very large elec­tric­ity port­fo­lio with plenty of room for con­ven­tional and re­new­able sources. I don’t see why peo­ple are so scared.”

So­lar and wind pro­po­nents deny that they are en­tirely de­pen­dent on fed­eral in­vest­ment — such as the $80 bil­lion pro­vided by the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stim­u­lus pack­age — to make their prod­ucts com­pet­i­tive in the mar­ket­place.

“Our po­si­tion is that if all sub­si­dies for all forms of en­ergy were elim­i­nated this evening, so­lar and wind would do very well. Our fuel is free,” Mr. Ma­sia said.

Given the na­tion’s fis­cal cri­sis, those sub­si­dies are likely to end sooner rather than later. Congress al­ready voted to cut some fed­eral aid to ethanol, and Repub­li­cans are ea­ger to do the same with sup­port for wind and so­lar power.

As with any other in­dus­try, Mr. Gram­lich said, some com­pa­nies will pros­per and oth­ers, such as Solyn­dra, will end in fail­ure. That will hap­pen with or with­out fed­eral sub­si­dies, pro­po­nents say.

Crit­ics, how­ever, ar­gue that many firms are well aware they can’t make a profit with­out govern­ment help and serve as lit­tle more than black holes for tax­payer money in the name of re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions.

So­lar and wind “are not cheap,” Mr. Kish said. “They’re not re­li­able. And over the long run, frankly, they’re a drag on our econ­omy and our way of life. By the time this is done, I would be very sur­prised if some peo­ple don’t end up be­hind bars.”

AP

AN FBI agent car­ries a box of ev­i­dence from Solyn­dra head­quar­ters in Fre­mont, Calif., on Sept. 8.

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