Growth in clean energy industries and in green jobs has been considerably slower and bumpier than anticipated, industry experts say.
But rather than giving up on its green jobs mantra, the White House will rededicate itself to promoting green industries at the jobs meeting, which will bring together business and labor leaders, politicians and economists.
The initial promise of green jobs was based on governments around the world declaring the fight against global warming to be a priority. The theory was that jobs in environmentally minded companies would grow rapidly as a result. But instead, some green-industry companies have been shedding jobs in the United States, and in some cases moving them to China.
Last week, the Gamesa wind turbine plant in western Pennsylvania announced it was laying off nearly half its 280 workers. Last month, General Electric said it would close a solar panel factory in Delaware, while Evergreen Solar, which received $58 million in state aid to build a 900-employee plant northwest of Boston, said it would move some assembly to China, costing 250 jobs.
There are myriad reasons why green jobs have grown more slowly than hoped. The clean energy component of the $787 billion stimulus package has only recently started to kick in. Energy experts say that banks, which have been reluctant to lend generally, have been especially loath to lend for alternative energy projects.
And renewable-energy companies are hesitating to invest in new plants and equipment before Congress enacts new environmental mandates, like cap and trade, to limit carbon emissions. In addition, the long recession (along with correspondingly slack energy demand) caused the clean-energy industry to delay expansion plans.
As a result, the United States is likely to install just one-eighth as much new solar power this year as Germany does, and China is expected to surpass the United States this year as the leader in adding new wind energy capacity.
“The renewable energy industry in the U.S. is an underdeveloped developing industry,” said Michael Peck, director of external affairs for Gamesa USA, a Spanish-owned company that has two wind turbine factories in Pennsylvania. “Manufacturers, developers, utilities, financiers — they don’t see the legislative pieces that they’re all hoping for to help the industry move forward.”
We're in the bottom in health care and half the country is damned proud of that fact. Why shouldn't we be at the bottom in clean energy too?
“The clean energy market is gigantic and growing,” said Phyllis Cuttino, a director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Environmental Group. “The U.S. has a rich manufacturing base, a well educated work force and we are an innovation center. But if we don’t have the policies in place to make investment here a sure thing, then we could potentially lose to other countries. Other countries are jumping in. They have policies to take a lot of projects to scale, and that’s what’s missing in the United States.”