In his recent feature story for the Washington Post, “Retrained for green jobs, but still waiting on work,” Michael A. Fletcher implies that there’s no future in green jobs because a few people in Florida can’t find them. But if you look at other parts of the country and across the world, it’s evident that green jobs are, in fact, growing.
The answer to green jobs is Business 101. Just like any other industry, businesses in the clean energy sector need more customers before they can hire more workers. Clean energy businesses are finding customers in California and New England, and also abroad across Europe, China and Brazil where a commitment to reducing carbon air pollution is strong and growing. But places like Florida have not moved down this path. While they’re delivering training, they’re not creating customers and thus, no jobs.
Today, more than ever, we need both strong public policy and the private sector to create customers for a clean energy economy. Companies like Walmart are realizing that clean energy is a good strategy for their business, and in so doing are helping create “green jobs” that really are new and improved manufacturing jobs.
Walmart plans to install thin film solar panels on 20 or more of its facilities, becoming a major customer for First Solar, Inc., a manufacturing plant in Perrysburg, Ohio. First Solar recently announced two new plants that will create 600 new manufacturing jobs a piece. On top of these new manufacturing jobs, Walmart’s project will also create employment opportunities at SolarCity, the company that will install and maintain the solar panels at the Walmart sites.
The federal stimulus package has also helped. In a recent Frost & Sullivan survey of clean energy companies, 63% said the Recovery Act has had a positive impact on their sales. Of the businesses surveyed, 31% plan to hire people in 2010. Still, the Recovery Act was just a down payment – seven out of 10 businesses said that if the U.S. passed new policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the business would increase sales.
As Michael Eckhart of the American Council on Renewable Energy notes in his letter to the editor about Fletcher’s story, “any journalist can shoot at a young industry for lack of jobs. The personal computer industry in 1980 had few jobs, the cellphone industry in 1985 had few jobs, the Internet industry in 1995 had few jobs and, yes, the renewable energy industry in 2010 has few jobs – but all were and are experiencing tremendous growth. They are set to employ a major percentage of U.S. workers in the future.”
The concept of building a new market sector is not flawed: the clean energy investments will pay off for us now with green jobs and provide a healthier planet for our children. But without a strong commitment here in the U.S. to limit pollution from dirty sources of energy, we won’t get the demand that leads to green jobs. It isn’t a question of whether the green jobs will be created; it’s where they’ll be. Unless places like Florida get on board, it’s pretty clear that Americans won’t be finding these jobs here in the U.S., but may be able to do so in places like China and Europe.