Green Jobs Depend on Obama Win As Fiscal Cliff Approaches

Jerry Limbeck and his son Andrew both got the bad news the same day in October, in the form of a folder with a color-coded sticker. It meant that after months of assembling turbines, they were losing their jobs in the Windsor, Colorado, factory of Vestas Wind Systems AS. (VWS)

The problem, according to the Aarhus, Denmark-based company, was that uncertainty about the extension of a U.S. tax credit had slowed orders. As a result, Vestas was cutting its manufacturing workforce in Colorado by 18 percent.

“They had to do something,” said Jerry Limbeck, 49. “I totally understand what the reasoning was behind it. I was real fortunate to even have that job to begin with. The way the economy was, it was a pretty decent job for being a nonskilled laborer like I am.”

How many other workers in clean-energy jobs follow in the Limbecks’ footsteps hinges in part on today’s election. President Barack Obama has championed renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, which have generated jobs for thousands of people across the country, while falling short of stated goals. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has said Obama’s “‘green energy’ agenda has been nothing short of a disaster” and that the government shouldn’t fund specific companies and technologies.

Beyond the election, the industry is entangled with policies that are dependent on the resolution of the so-called fiscal cliff, the more than $600 billion in federal tax increases and spending cuts that take effect at the beginning of 2013 unless Congress acts. Whether policy makers reach a final deal that includes more than $18 billion in energy-related tax incentives is uncertain.

Election Outcome
“The outcome of the election will have an influence on the pace of growth in these industries,” said Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “If the nation and states weaken the policy framework, the industry uptick and need for workers will stagnate.”
Four years ago Obama pledged to make the U.S. less reliant on fossil fuels and create 5 million green jobs in 10 years. So far, job creation has been far more modest than Obama projected, and bankruptcies at government-supported companies, including solar-panel maker Solyndra LLC, which received a $535 million loan guarantee, have generated a political backlash.

Clean Energy
The 2009 economic-stimulus plan spent $90 billion on clean energy and “saved or created” 225,000 positions through 2010, the President’s Council of Economic Advisers reported in November 2010. Out of 113,247 participants in green-job training programs funded with $435 million in stimulus, 30,857 people were hired in new positions, the Department of Labor’s inspector general said in an Oct. 25 report.
“What we call the clean economy, and especially the clean tech sectors that people are so interested in, are actually not large job creators,” Muro said. “The job creation is muted in general because they’re relatively small and very efficient technologies.”
Brookings found the U.S. employed 184,699 workers in 2010 in clean technology, which includes wind, solar, fuel-cell and smart-grid power used for electricity, according to a 2011 report.
Now, policy uncertainty may jeopardize those jobs and the potential for future growth. Romney has said that he does not support extending the production tax credit. Wind-energy companies get 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour produced, shaving as much as one-third off the costs. The industry employed 75,000 people -- including 30,000 in the manufacturing sector -- in 2011, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a Washington-based lobbying group.

 

 

 

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