Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Green Jobs in California: Dead and Loving It

In another reminder of how no good deed goes unpunished, the Bay Citizen has apparently taken some heat for a story we noticed last week: for pointing out that substantial taxpayer investments in green energy have been largely disastrous, the Citizen has taken flak from environmentalists, who say that the story underplayed strong gains in certain sectors of the green economy, as well as critics who felt it didn't clearly argue that taxpayer dollars were being wasted. As a result, the reporter behind the story offers this follow-up describing his work on the piece. The gist of his self-defense is that the measurable numbers of green jobs haven't come close to matching the promises of politicians like Barack Obama and Jerry Brown, and that the "strong gains" the green-tech proponents refer to only amount to 78,000 jobs nationally between 2003 and 2010.

Real wind power.
As far as the criticisms of renewable-energy skeptics, we'll see if we can help them out. The author points to Van Jones' assertion that the failure of green-energy subsidies is directly attributable to Congress's failure to enact a federal cap and trade law. This is, at best, debatable. For one thing, cap and trade would (and in California, will) have the effect of hiking the costs of many businesses, thus suppressing economic activity and reducing demand for all energy, including clean energy. It speaks volumes about these technologies that California's mandate to produce 33% of the state's energy via renewables, as well as its upcoming cap and trade plan, have not translated into a market for them. Second, Jones' dream of resurrecting America's labor movement by having a million Teamsters at work installing a million solar panels is at odds with the fact that American green technology firms have to compete with foreign competitors that may have lower labor costs. And third, it ignores the fact that many of these technologies are simply not ready for prime time, if that means living up to the promises of politicians. Just because solar panels and wind turbines sound cool doesn't mean that the people making them are ready to turn them into self-sustaining, profitable businesses. And many of the green start-ups going belly-up, like Green Vehicles in Salinas, are doing so because the only people willing to give them money are economically ignorant bureaucrats. (This is also likely to be the reason the state's High Speed Rail Project doesn't happen.)

As if on cue to illustrate our point, the San Jose Mercury News reports today that California just got 1,100 green jobs further away from Jerry Brown's promise of 500,000: Fremont-based solar firm Solyndra has announced the immediate layoff of 1,100 employees, as part of its move into bankruptcy. Solyndra is known for producing large-scale solar installations on commercial rooftops, yet in spite of a $535 million loan from the federal Department of Energy and what it calls "strong growth" in 2011, it was unable to compete with lower-cost manufacturers in China. Ultimately it was done in by a complaint all too typical of manufacturers in California: high production costs. The firm will now explore its options, including selling and licensing its technology.


  1. Johnny EdgeAug 31, 2011 05:03 PM
    It's striking to me that people don't connect regulation with lost jobs and fewer businesses. I guess it's hard to see something that's not there (or will never appear). Maybe with AB 889 hitting so literally close to home, people will begin to wake up and see this.
  2. GSLAug 31, 2011 05:05 PM
    I would guess the bill won't end up passing. On the subject of people who "don't connect regulation with lost jobs and fewer businesses": welcome to California!