This Thursday, Republicans in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are holding a hearing called “How Obama’s Green Energy Agenda is Killing Jobs.” Could they make their ideological opposition to clean energy any more clear?
The Solyndra bankruptcy and subsequent layoff of 1,100 workers has given opponents a platform to rail on green jobs as some kind of fantasy — even when the evidence suggests otherwise.
Case in point: There are now 100,237 jobs in the American solar industry, according to preliminary figures released this morning by the Solar Foundation. The organization is currently putting together its second solar jobs census, which will be released next month. The census tracks a diverse range of jobs in solar PV, solar thermal and concentrating solar power.
The Solar Foundation found that between August of 2010 and August of 2011, the solar industry grew by 6.8%, far outpacing the 0.7% growth rate of the overall U.S. economy.
According to figures compiled by the solar census researchers from an Economic Modeling Specialists database, jobs in the fossil fuel electricity-generation sector actually dropped by more than 1,600 over the last year. Meanwhile, the solar industry added more than 6,700 jobs.
While still only representing a small fraction of our energy mix, the solar industry already maintains tens of thousands of jobs. As the cost of the technologies continues to drop, solar is becoming increasingly competitive with nuclear and fossil resources — spreading project development all over the country. (In solar PV, module prices have fallen 80% in two years and total system costs have dropped 30% in the U.S. over the last year and a half). At penetration levels of just a few percent, the industry could potentially add hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
Much of the solar activity in 2009 and 2010 was spurred by the Treasury Grant Program, a federal incentive package that replaced tax credits and made it easier to finance projects. That program is set to expire at the end of this year. While the federal investment tax credit is still in place through 2016, the lack of tax appetite among financial institutions may slow project development a bit. As the solar industry pushes for another extension of the grant program, lawmakers now have 100,237 more reasons to listen up.
So why are politicians still claiming that green jobs don’t exist?
Some Republicans are trying to turn “green jobs” into a politically untouchable word, just like they did with “climate.” But a recent public opinion poll from Reuters found that strategy is backfiring. The pollsters reported a major jump in the number of Americans who believe in human-caused climate change — a rise influenced by the uneducated, baseless attacks on science among Republican presidential candidates.
Perhaps the same backlash will take place in clean energy as more Americans realize that jobs are actually being created in this sector.