GUEST COLUMN: Colorado fails as epicenter of green energy

Amy Oliver Cook and Michael Sandoval Updated: September 30, 2011 at 12:00 am • Published: September 30, 2011

By Amy Oliver Cooke and
Michael Sandoval

GUEST COLUMNISTS

Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter boasted that Colorado is at the “epicenter of America’s New Energy Economy.” This past spring, Ritter, now director of Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy, took to the stage in a national debate to defend the motion, “Clean energy can drive America’s economic recovery.” He bragged about the 57 pieces of legislation he signed to create the “New Energy Economy.”

State Rep. Max Tyler also claimed clean energy to be an economic panacea, writing in a March 2010 Denver Post guest editorial that increasing Colorado’s renewable energy standard would “create thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of jobs in the New Energy Economy.”

And those jobs Ritter and Tyler envisioned? They never materialized at the levels promised, according to government-commissioned surveys conducted in Colorado.

An interim report from July 2011 details the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s attempt to quantify “green” jobs. Based on methods they freely admit are “highly dependent” on subjective measures, prone to self-selection bias, and include a “broad definition of what constitutes a green job” — they found 61,239 results, or 2.8 percent of the state’s workforce.

“Most” of the jobs, according to CDLE, actually “pre-date the green economy,” but the report fails to provide any explanation.

If accurate, the results cast doubt on CDLE’s estimate, as pre-existing jobs repurposed for the green economy are not job “creations.” Transforming a job — say from coal to wind — is still the same single job, only redefined.

A similar July study by the Brookings Institution put Colorado at 2.2 percent, or roughly 51,000 jobs, 20th in the country.

Differing methodologies have yielded no consensus on when the green economy began, a reliable green jobs estimate, potential growth rate over time, and, most importantly, any unintended externalities.

For example, a 2007 Pew study concluded there were 17,000 clean energy jobs in Colorado, an increase of 2,700 jobs dating back to 1998. Brookings, measuring from 2003-2010, estimated 16,250 jobs were added over seven years.

The CDLE “snapshot” survey, however, isn’t helpful here either, as the results “cannot be interpreted to determine any relative growth or decline in the number or quality of jobs in Colorado over a period of time.”

But compared to a 2007 American Solar Energy Society estimate commissioned by the Governor’s Energy Office and Xcel Energy that claimed more than 91,000 green jobs, the CDLE report actually would indicate a loss of 30,000 positions, a 9.2 percent annual decline.

Colorado isn’t the only state suffering potential green industry malaise — and high profile disappointment.

Green job creation, where it has actually occurred, has cost the taxpayers plenty. In Seattle, a $20 million “Weatherize Every Building” program promised 2,000 jobs, delivering just 14. That’s $1.4 million per job. In Colorado, a solar manufacturer with a $370 million loan guarantee has created just 80 jobs—$4.63 million per job.

Expensive taxpayer-funded failure, however, has tempered expensive taxpayer-subsidized “growth.” One of President Barack Obama’s highly touted projects, California-based Solyndra, a solar-panel manufacturer, terminated 1,100 employees despite a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. The company is now the subject of speculation into “sweetheart” financing and a recent FBI raid.

Evergreen Solar received $58 million in state subsidies from the state of Massachusetts in 2007, but laid-off 800 workers in March 2011 and filed for bankruptcy last month.

These aren’t merely companies that failed in a competitive marketplace. Questionable government “investments” of taxpayers’ money to promote growth in ideologically desirable sectors has real costs elsewhere in the economy.

In 2009, a Pew study estimated 770,000 green jobs nationwide, while the Bureau of Labor and Statistics calculated the figure at 2.15 million. Brookings’ 2010 results showed 2.7 million. There are approximately 139 million jobs in the U.S. economy.

Already three years into his 10-year plan for 5 million new “green collar” jobs, President Obama would need to add hundreds of thousands of jobs per year in this sector alone to reach his goal.

As The New York Times concluded on August 18, 2011, “Federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed, government records show.”

It appears we can add one more government record—the CDLE green jobs report — to that pile. If Colorado is the “epicenter” then the rest of America should run away fast from anyone trumpeting the New Energy Economy.


Amy Oliver Cooke writes on energy policy for the Independence Institute at energy.i2i.org. She is also the host of the award-winning Amy Oliver Show heard on News Talk 1310 KFKA. Michael Sandoval is managing editor at PeoplesPressCollective.org.

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