‘Green’ jobs no longer golden in stimulus

Environmental projects fail to live up to hype

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While he requested no additional stimulus funding for renewable-energy projects this week, Mr. Obama now portrays his green-energy agenda as good for the economy and jobs in the long term, as the government assists the private sector in evolving away from dependence on oil and coal.

“We see a future,” he said in a speech Wednesday in Cleveland, “where we build a homegrown clean-energy industry, because I don’t want to see new solar panels or electric cars or advanced batteries manufactured in Europe or in Asia. I want to see them made right here in the U.S. of A. by American workers.”

Time magazine recently reported that the White House last year saw the stimulus bill as a vehicle for enacting the president’s ambitious, long-term environmental program, knowing that most of the economic effect would be felt years from now rather than immediately when the economy needed it.

The New America Foundation’s Mr. Sherraden said it was “unwise” of the administration and congressional Democrats “to rely so heavily on the renewable-energy sector to drive the recovery.”

The progressive think tank and other allies urged the administration to refocus its efforts on traditional road and transit projects, which economists say are more likely to provide quick jolts to the jobs market. The administration appears to have followed that advice in advancing a $50 billion program for building roads, transit and rail as the centerpiece of its latest stimulus plan.

“Green-energy projects in the United States are unusually slow to roll out because the industry is small and rife with political and market uncertainty,” Mr. Sherraden said.

Despite the massive infusion of government funding in recent years, renewable technologies have captured only a tiny share of the energy market and remain heavily dependent on government funding to be viable. Because of the need to constantly renew government funding, private investors remain skittish about committing to new projects.

Mr. Sherraden said the problem with job leakage overseas promised only to get worse, because governments in Europe and Japan - which in years past spent lavishly on renewable energy - now are drastically cutting back their green subsidies as they try to pare enormous budget deficits.

With the United States left as the only major developed country still flooding the market with government funding, competition from overseas suppliers promised to be more fierce than ever, Mr. Sherraden said.

“It is impossible to guarantee that clean-energy stimulus is not leaked abroad,” he said. “We have to recognize that we are funding job-creation programs in Germany, Spain, Japan and China.”

Even if the green-energy funding is viewed as a long-term investment to replace dwindling reserves of oil rather than as pure economic stimulus, advocates have greatly exaggerated the benefits, said Kerry Lynch, senior fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research.

“For all the hype over wind and solar, the reality is that they contribute very little to our energy supply,” she said, saying that wind accounts for less than 1 percent of total U.S. energy production and solar power for just one-tenth of 1 percent. “Together, they could power the country for all of three days a year.”

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