As money flows to wind power, will jobs follow?

In a tale of dueling jobs studies, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says that polices to support wind and solar industries deliver positive economic results.

A day after the federal government awarded $500 million to renewable-energy projects, the American Wind Energy Association is pointing to a study that concludes that the investments will lead to "green collar jobs" as intended.

The U.S. Treasury and Energy departments on Tuesday said that 12 renewable-energy projects, 10 of them in wind, were awarded cash grants, a move meant to bring financiers back to the U.S. wind industry and create manufacturing and construction jobs.

Home on the plain: Wind power. GE

On Wednesday, the AWEA said that a new study shows that the government stimulus on wind is money well-spent when it comes to job creation. Specifically, the industry association backed an analysis from the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory that debunks a previous study which found that Spain's wind and solar policies actually resulted in fewer jobs.

That previous study dates back to March when researchers at Spain's King Juan Carlos University concluded that for every job created by Spain's aggressive renewable-energy policy, on average 2.2 jobs will be "destroyed." The study (click for PDF in English) has been cited by people opposed to using Spain as a model for U.S. energy policy.

The reasoning behind the analysis is that nonsubsidized investments would have created jobs at a lower cost. It calculates that a "green job" in Spain costs over twice the "average capital per worker" in the private sector.

The analysis of Spanish job creation doesn't quite add up, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's response which was published in August. (Click for PDF.) NREL found fault with how the King Juan Carlos University study calculated job loss, saying that more established methods found a net benefit to Europe's energy policies.

In addition, NREL researchers said that the Spanish study doesn't take into the account the value of creating industries with export potential. Many industrial areas of the U.S. with auto expertise, for example, are trying to move into wind turbine manufacturing. It also said that there are limits to applying the lessons of Spain's employment market to other countries.

But even in its rebuttal, NREL researchers concede that it's a fair to ask whether the net effect of boosting wind and solar power is more jobs. In the U.S., the Senate is considering whether to create a national mandate for renewable-energy production at utilities or to ratchet up the one passed by the House earlier this year.

Overall, NREL found that the price of conventional energy is the key point in determining whether government policies supporting renewable energy have a net positive effect on creating jobs. "With increased awareness of potential energy price scenarios, recent research has found that it is only when conventional energy prices are forecast to be very low that net employment impacts from (renewable energy) investments are negative," according to the study.

 

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