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Green jobs–slow to develop

March 24, 2010

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

When President Barack Obama vowed to create 5 million green jobs over the next 10 years and made billions of dollars available to develop the clean energy sector, people were excited by new opportunities.

Unfortunately, jobs have been slow to materialize. When we spoke at the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce meeting in Chicago last fall, the mention of green job opportunities was met with widespread doubt that many would result.

At the annual meeting of an American photovoltaic manufacturing company this past January, a question was raised regarding the impact of stimulus funds on the sales of solar panels. A corporate official indicated he had not seen any impact from the program.

Others shared the impression that renewable energy jobs have been slow to materialize. According to several articles published in February, it was estimated that between 52,000 and 63,000 jobs were created or saved by funds attributable to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by the end of 2009. At that time, only one-third of the $90 billion targeted at clean energy jobs had been released.

It was also reported that the president’s plan to create jobs and rein in energy costs by weatherizing low-income homes had produced few jobs and had saved little energy this winter. While states were authorized to spend 50 percent of the money allocated for the program, its implementation was delayed.

Many state agencies had laid off employees and had hiring freezes in place as a result of budget cuts. With staff levels at a minimum, employees had difficulty keeping up with existing work and were unable to implement the new federal programs on a timely basis.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, Energy Secretary Steven Chu expressed his frustration that most of last year’s stimulus money had yet to be spent. He attributed some of the delay to the complexity of the review process in determining which projects are eligible for support. Staff shortages and other internal weaknesses increased the likelihood of fraud and required congressional policy changes to facilitate release of the funds.

A report by the Apollo Alliance and Good Jobs First warned that low-wage countries have emerged as key competitors to lead the global clean energy economy. The United States imports about 70 percent of its renewable energy systems and components. If the trend continues, the United States could lose up to 100,000 clean energy jobs by 2015.

Four Democratic senators from northern states—Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Robert Casey (D-Penn.) and Jon Tester (D-Mon.)—have called on the Obama administration to halt spending on renewable energy projects to ensure the preponderance of funds supports American labor and materials. They point out that 75 percent of the $2 billion spent on wind energy projects funded by the stimulus package has gone to foreign companies.

A bank report from HSBC indicates clean energy sector spending already exceeds $500 billion per year and could reach $2 trillion in 10 years. The bank described the industry as the world’s biggest economic development opportunity ever quantified. For the United States to become a major supplier of renewable energy technologies, it will need to develop the base to support the industry.

 From the March 24-30, 2010 issue

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