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Green Jobs = Growth Or Status Quo?

April 17, 2009
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There’s been a lot of talk about President Obama’s renewable energy initiatives and how many jobs will be created in the new green culture. Yet there are studies surfacing that suggest that as many jobs will be lost as will be created by green energy projects.

These green or green-collar jobs will create new opportunities for American workers, but commonsense tells you that as the nation switches to cleaner, renewable forms of energy, some jobs in the energy sector may become obsolete.

Last week, results of a study on Spain’s experience with government subsidizing of green jobs were released. The study- “Study of the effects on employment of public aid to renewable energy sources” - was prepared under the direction of Dr. Gabriel Calzada, an economics professor at the Juan Carlos University in Madrid. Researchers found that for every renewable energy job that the state manages to finance, Spain’s experience cited by President Obama as a model reveals, by two different methods, that the U.S. should expect a loss of at least 2.2 jobs on average, or about 9 jobs lost for every 4 created.

While researches said that it was “not possible to directly translate Spain’s experience with exactitude to claim that the U.S. would lose” the same number of jobs, the report noted it was highly likely that this is the outcome that America faced.

“At minimum, therefore, the study’s evaluation of the Spanish model cited as one for the U.S. to replicate in quick pursuit of ‘green jobs’ serves a note of caution, that the reality is far from what has typically been presented, and that such schemes also offer considerable employment consequences and implications for emerging from the economic crisis,” the report summary noted.

The study found a number of temporary jobs were created - two-thirds were in construction, fabrication and installation  - and one out of 10 jobs were more permanent positions of actual operation and maintenance of renewable forms of energy.

Green Construction Outlook

To me, this seems like good news for the construction industry. Construction workers want to work, right? And does anyone really know when an increase in new residential and commercial construction is going to pick up?

Last fall, Congress extended tax credits for solar, geothermal and other renewables so homeowners could take advantage of these technologies, and the recent stimulus package did away with the cap for solar thermal installations.

Recently, the Solar Energy Industries Association released its 2008 U.S. Solar Industry Year in Review, highlighting a third year of record growth. The report notes that 1,265 megawatts (MW) of solar power of all types were installed in 2008, bringing total U.S. solar power capacity up 17 percent to 8,775 MW. The 2008 figure included 139 MWTh (thermal equivalent) of solar water heating, 762 MWTh of pool heating and an estimated 21 MW of solar space heating and cooling.

Solar water heating installation grew at a 50 percent rate in 2008 (139 MWTh) over 2007 (93 MWTh) and pool heating growth slowed by 3 percent in 2008 (762 MWTh) from 2007 (785 MWTh).

According to McGraw-Hill Construction’s “Green Outlook 2009: Trends Driving Change” report, the value of U.S. green building construction starts was up five-fold from 2005 to 2008 (from $10 billion to $36-$49 billion), and could triple by 2013, reaching $96-$140 billion. Drivers are said to be growing public awareness, an increase in government regulations and recognition of bottom-line advantages.

What do you think is the prognosis for green-collar jobs - and green construction - in the United States?

Article Links

Here are a few links to some online articles that may help explain the green-collar job issue (some sites may require registration to read the articles):

  • “Barking Up the Wrong Tree,” Slate.com

  • “Unemployed seek training for ‘green-collar’ jobs,” The Associated Press

  • “What Is a Green-Collar Job, Exactly?” Time

  • “Millions of Jobs of a Different Collar,” The New York Times

  • “Switching To Green-Collar Jobs,” Business Week
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