“Green energy” is proving to be no miracle solution to the nation’s monumental unemployment problems, and it is doing little to help the economy emerge from its deepest recession in decades, economists say.
A large part of this year’s $786 billion stimulus bill was devoted to green or renewable energy projects, with President Obama, Democratic legislators and their environmental allies repeatedly promising that the money would be used to create an army of home weatherizers, wind-turbine factory jobs and other employment opportunities that would help put to work the nearly 8 million people who have lost jobs during the recession.
The president and his allies have asserted that as many as 5 million jobs would be created by spending $150 billion over the next decade on new technologies such as solar and tidal power while retrofitting buildings and residences to make them more energy-efficient.
“We know the jobs of the 21st century will be created in developing alternative energy,” the president said as he campaigned last year. “The question is whether these jobs will be created in America … or overseas.”
But the reality is that after a big dose of spending in the stimulus bill, no more than 100,000 or so jobs have been created, economists say, and the prospects are for only modest growth in alternative energy jobs for years to come.
“This is not the spark” that will pull the economy out of recession and put it in a lasting expansion that creates millions of jobs, said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University. “This is not the solution to the current big unemployment problem.”
Green-energy industries other than wind and hydropower remain mostly in the experimental stages and are not proven enough technologically or economically to be instrumental in pulling the economy out of recession and putting millions of people to work like the Internet boom of the 1990s or the housing boom of the early 2000s, he said.
“We need to put 7.3 million people back to work, and none of these ideas can make a dent of more than a few hundred thousand at best, and then after only a long gestation time,” Mr. Dhawan said.
While green jobs likely are a wave of the future, economists say, most of them will require high levels of education and skills, and they will not be plentiful enough to take care of the millions of unemployed construction workers, retail sales clerks and factory workers who need jobs right now.
Many green industries were set back by the deep recession, despite being showered with additional government subsidies. Ethanol plants struggled to stay afloat after the big decline in oil and gas prices last year, which made it harder to compete with traditional energy sources.
Meanwhile, other projects targeted for funding in the stimulus, such as tidal power and carbon capture, still are not technologically feasible or do not make economic sense at today’s energy prices, even with the subsidies.
“For all the talk about green-job creation, there’s an unavoidable problem with renewable-energy technologies and the policies that promote them: From an economic standpoint, they’re big losers,” said Max Schulz, an analyst at the Manhattan Institute, a free-market think tank.
“Renewables can’t produce the large volumes of useful, reliable energy that our economy needs at attractive prices. Government subsidizes renewables because — all things being equal — the free market won’t,” he said. Even before the stimulus was enacted, solar and wind projects received more than 16 times the subsidies given to nuclear, coal or oil, and yet still provided only a tiny fraction of the nation’s energy, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Mr. Schulz said green-economy advocates use a kind of “fuzzy math” when counting the number of jobs created. While the number of core green jobs such as environmental engineers and wind-turbine and solar-panel factory workers is small, environmental groups and subsidized industries add in support staff such as accountants, computer programmers, sales representatives and truck drivers who deliver the products to users.
“No real standards exist for what constitutes a green job, so these numbers are fuzzy,” Mr. Schulz said. “Work in an energy-intensive smelting plant producing steel for a wind turbine, and you might wind up in the green-jobs column, despite the belching pollution.”View Entire Story
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