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Green Jobs Predictions Proving a Pipe Dream

 
Clean tech isn't turning out to be the economic engine politicians promised

Solar Panel

Flanked by a cadre of local political leaders, Mayor Chuck Reed of San Jose used a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a solar power company last week to talk up the promise of the green economy.

Reed called the opening of the new headquarters of SolFocus, which produces large, free-standing solar panels, an “enormously important” development for the city’s economy.

“Clean technology is the next wave of innovation that Silicon Valley needs to capture,” the mayor said, noting that the San Jose City Council had committed to increasing the number of “green jobs” in the city to 25,000 by 2022. San Jose currently has 4,350 such jobs, according to city officials.

But SolFocus assembles its solar panels in China, and the new San Jose headquarters employs just 90 people.

In the Bay Area as in much of the country, the green economy is not proving to be the job-creation engine that many politicians envisioned. President Obama once pledged to create five million green jobs over 10 years. Gov. Jerry Brown promised 500,000 clean-technology jobs statewide by the end of the decade. But the results so far suggest such numbers are a pipe dream.

“I won’t say I’m not frustrated,” said Van Jones, an Oakland activist who served briefly as Obama’s green-jobs czar before resigning under fire from conservative critics. 

A study released in July by the non-partisan Brookings Institution found clean-technology jobs accounted for just 2 percent of employment nationwide and only slightly more — 2.2 percent — in Silicon Valley. Rather than adding jobs, the study found, the sector actually lost 492 positions from 2003 to 2010 in the South Bay, where the unemployment rate in June was 10.5 percent.

Federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed, government records show. Two years after it was awarded $186 million in federal stimulus money to weatherize drafty homes, California has spent only a little over half that sum and has so far created the equivalent of just 538 full-time jobs in the last quarter, according to the State Department of Community Services and Development.

The weatherization program was initially delayed for seven months while the federal Department of Labor determined prevailing wage standards for the industry. Even after that issue was resolved, the program never really caught on.

“Companies and public policy officials really overestimated how much consumers care about energy efficiency,” said Sheeraz Haji, chief executive of the Cleantech Group, a market research firm. “People care about their wallet and the comfort of their home, but it’s not a sexy thing.”

Job training programs intended for the clean economy have also failed to generate big numbers. The Economic Development Department in California reports that $59 million in state, federal and private money dedicated to green jobs training and apprenticeship has led to only 719 job placements — the equivalent of an $82,000 subsidy for each one.

“The demand’s just not there to take this to scale,” said Fred Lucero, project manager at Richmond BUILD, which teaches students the basics of carpentry and electrical work in addition to specifically “green” trades like solar installation.

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