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As Congress Continues its Witch Hunt, Here are Five Things You Should Know About Clean Energy Investments

Stephen Lacey
Climate Progress / News Report
Published: Wednesday 16 May 2012
“The title of the meeting gives away the real political intent: ‘The Obama Administration’s Green Energy Gamble: What Have All The Taxpayer Subsidies Achieved?’”
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In an attempt to keep the political war against renewable energy in the headlines, Republicans are holding another hearing to question the value of government investments in the sector.

Looks like ten political sideshows on Solyndra weren’t enough.

If tomorrow morning’s hearing were being used as a chance to objectively assess where the industry stands, that would be one thing. But the title of the meeting gives away the real political intent: “The Obama Administration’s Green Energy Gamble: What Have All The Taxpayer Subsidies Achieved?

Actually, those green energy investments have yielded substantial returns. And before the political grandstanding begins in the House of Representatives tomorrow, here are five important things you should know about how promotion of clean energy has supported American businesses and consumers:

1. The 1603 grant program supported up to 75,000 jobs and 23,000 renewable energy projects during the height of the recession. When the recession hit, it was very difficult for project developers to find banks that were willing to utilize tax credits. So a cash grant program was created to give companies an easier way to finance projects. While it’s very difficult to know the exact influence of the grant on each project, the program played a major role in maintaining momentum — helping support $25 billion in gross economic activity, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. 

2. The production tax credit helps leverage up to $20 billion in private investment annually. With this key tax credit in place, the wind industry has dropped costs by 90% over the last few decades. It’s helped states like Iowa reach 20% wind penetration — bringing that state over 215 businesses that support 5,000 workers. Across the rest of the U.S., the entire industry supports 75,000 jobs, with 30,000 in manufacturing. However, up to 37,000 of those jobs could due Congressional lawmakers’ inability to extend the tax credit.

3. The loan guarantee program is expected to cost $2 billion less than budgeted. This program has gotten a black eye due to the bankruptcies of a few companies — most famously Solyndra — that received guarantees. But according to John McCain’s National Finance Chairman, Herb Allison, the cost to taxpayers will likely be far less than initially thought. In fact, over the last 20 years of experience, the U.S. government has shown a knack for managing risk — with loans and loan guarantee programs only costing tax payers 94 cents for every $100 dollars invested.

4. Home weatherization grew 1000% from April to June of 2011, creating 14,800 jobs. After a slow ramp-up, efficiency programs supported by the stimulus package have helped weatherize hundreds of thousands of homes. In addition to supporting the retrofits of individual homes, the Obama administration has supported the Better Buildings Initiative, a program that has leveraged to upgrade more than 4 billion square feet of public and private buildings in the next two years. That’s enough demand to support over 100,000 jobs.

5. ARPA-E has supported dozens of potentially groundbreaking technologies in advanced materials, renewable fuels, electricity generation, waste heat, and battery storage. Helping enhance America’s lead in technological innovation, the Advanced Research Research Projects Agency for Energy — initially funded through the stimulus package — has helped inventors, companies, and university labs boost their work. This program has immense bi-partisan support for promoting the “innovative research that makes America great and has fueled our economic growth for generations.”

Despite these successes, Republicans continue milking the Solyndra bankruptcy for an election-year story that doesn’t hold up — dragging the rest of the clean energy industry into the mud.

The sector has gone through some high-profile shake-ups and bankruptcies, so it’s the duty of lawmakers to understand how taxpayer dollars are being deployed. That’s a supportable endeavor. But holding yet another hearing to lambast the President for a so-called “gamble” in clean energy isn’t productive for anyone.

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ABOUT Stephen Lacey

Stephen Lacey is a reporter/blogger for Climate Progress, where he writes on clean energy policy, technologies, and finance. Before joining CP, he was an editor/producer with He received his B.A. in journalism from Franklin Pierce University.

Thank you Stephen Lacey.

Thank you Stephen Lacey. Facts are critical to counteract the posturing and spin we see from Congress, both sides of the aisle. Just because Spain has issues doesn't mean that we should follow their model but instead learn from it.

It seems to me, though, that jobs are not the single criteria by which to judge the success of this program: that the condition of the planet as we leave it to the next generation is at stake which is the much bigger issue. We forget that this is a living ecosystem we are dependent upon and part of. I recognize that it all needs to be considered in terms of money and jobs for those who forget or who have never learned this, so good work and thank you!

Robin, since you already

Robin, since you already addressed that issue, I left it unremarked in my own comment. Good work on your part.

spain 's Calzada's study

spain 's Calzada's study found that for every four jobs created by Spain's expensive green technology program, nine jobs were lost.

What about productivity

What about productivity improvements that have NOTHING to do with green energy BUT have, indeed and in fact, cost millions of jobs? The agricultural sector is an excellent example. A century ago, a majority of us were involved in agricultural; today, it's a few percent (2-3%, as I recall without looking it up). A few weeks ago I read that just in the past 20 years the number of manufacturing workers has shrunk by 5-7 million -- with no loss in the amount produced.

Though I'm a layman, I've looked at the study and tried to understand it. I remain highly skeptical of its conclusions regarding job losses.

Would you roll back increased productivity measures that have eliminated jobs -- forever?

As far as green energy goes in this country, if a worker can pour a concrete pad for an oil derrick, he darned sure has all the skills he needs to pour comparable pads for windmills and solar arrays. If another worker can assemble derricks, he can darned sure learn -- very quickly -- how to assemble and erect windmill and solar towers If yet a third worker can operate a dam, how much would it take to transfer those skills to operating a tidal turbine? If a worker is an oil or gas driller, what's to stop him from drilling for geothermal energy sources?

And what about all the other workers not directly involved in exploration, drilling, and production -- office staff? If they can use an Excel spreadsheet in one energy industry, can't they use it in another? Stuff such as payroll is payroll, regardless of industry, and not just energy industries. Security personnel? Groundskeepers? Facilities maintenance workers (keeping offices and the like neat and orderly) Warehouse workers? Public relations folks? Marketing, advertising, and sales employees? What about Human Resources personnel? Aren't all the skills those workers have transferable? And many more?

I don't want to see ExxonMobile's 80,000 domestic employees thrown first onto unemployment and then the street. I DO want to see them migrate. They're my fellow Americans -- of COURSE I don't want to see them harmed.

Your argument boils down to one ultimately dependent on false equivalencies.

Of course the GOP will/has

Of course the GOP will/has beat the Solyndra bankruptcy beyond the grave. They are hell-bent on destroying this country as WE know it - and want to improve it. They are only interested in grinding WE, the People into the ground - make us subservient to the rich and powerful. WE are in the process of rising up against those powers - WE WILL take back this country. What WE need to do is convince those of us that do not believe. WE need an army to dethrone the high and mighty.
WE know that WE are on the right track to protect and improve our planet - beginning here at home. WE can improve our place in this country and on this earth. DAMN the naysayers - WE CAN DO IT!!

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