President Barack Obama's campaign has released its first ad for 2012. The ad emphasizes his record on energy independence (hours after rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline) and green jobs. To deflect attention from Solyndra, the ad cites a Brookings Institution study claiming "America's clean energy industry" has "2.7 million jobs" and is "expanding rapidly."
First, that 2.7 million figure is the number of "clean jobs" in the economy. This may sound like arcane hairsplitting, but Brookings defines clean jobs as jobs that "produce good and services with an environmental benefit." That is a much bigger category than jobs in the renewable energy sector, which counts only 140,000 jobs, according to Brookings.
In addition, many of these clean industries are already well established. From a report I co-authored with Todd Wynn for Cascade Policy Institute:
Surprisingly, the top sector for clean jobs was not installing sleek new solar panels or manufacturing electric cars, but “waste management and treatment” (386,000 jobs). In other words, trash collectors. Rounding out the rest of the top four were “mass public transit” (350,000 jobs), conservation (315,000), and “regulation and compliance,” i.e., government employees (141,000). Should the 21st Century economy really depend on hiring more trash collectors, bus drivers, and bureaucrats?
Since many of these 2.7 million clean jobs had already been created, this is a far cry from then-Sen. Obama's 2008 campaign promise "to create 5 million new green jobs."
The "expanding rapidly" claim is debunked, once again, by Brookings. From 2003-2010, the rate of growth for clean jobs was 3.4 percent. The rest of economy was 4.2 percent. Brookings does note that many clean tech startups have been growing "at torrid pace, albeit from small bases." But the clean tech sector is heavily dependent on government financing, so even these startups are in jeopardy. Alex Trembath, a policy associate at the Breakthrough Institute, describes "the coming clean tech crash:"
Our research shows that over 70 percent of the federal policies and funding support for clean energy that has catalyzed the recent growth of the industry is expected to lapse in the next three years, or has already expired. And make no mistake--clean energy is an industry dependent on government subsidy: tax credits, depreciation and other subsidies compose one third or more of the total after-tax value of most solar, wind or other renewable energy projects, for example...as these public investments fade away, we are now more likely to witness a clean tech crash than a clean tech revolution.
If you want to know more about green job creation schemes, read Reason, plus the full Cascade report, "The Dirty Secret Behind Clean Jobs." A personal favorite from that report: Shepherds Flat wind farm, which received $1.2 billion in subsidies, but will create only 35 permanent jobs.