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 Wednesday night. “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 Thursday night. 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 higher-than-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 large-scale 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.