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article imageOp-Ed: Can the Green Jobs Sector Cure the Ailing U.S. Economy?

By Angelique van Engelen     Sep 25, 2008 in Business
Will green jobs create the much needed new momentum for the US economy? That's a question that's gained attention from people that generally aren't so hot on the environment since the mortgage crisis started claiming victims.
The new administration may be the most important player in creating essentially an entirely new jobs segment and they´re advised to dish out some hefty investments by the authors of a recent report entitled Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy.
The authors, researchers at the University of Massachusetts, believe that before a green jobs market will be able to take off in earnest, investments totaling $100 billion will have to be made.
The report, which was picked up by our colleagues at GreenBiz, suggests this is direly needed money, not a luxury buffer.
The researchers assert that even after the funds have been spent –in the form of tax credits to private business, government spending and renewable energy- there’s no guarantee that the US economy will be any better for it.
The research document is one of a spate of recent reports covering the side effects of the emergence of the green jobs market. Remarkably few reports reveal a definite opinion on even such basic questions as whether green jobs will combat unemployment. The consensus opinion appears to be that at most, the economy will be altered as the green jobs sector sets off. The authors of the Green Recovery report say that a plan like the one they envision will surely be ´a strong counter force repressing unemployment´. But they’re also quite certain that the green jobs sector will on a broader scale ‘increase incumbent economic disparities’.
The writers, who were commissioned by the Center for American Progress, assert that the US economy could generate 2 million jobs in as short a stretch as two years. With the proper infrastructure investment, the researchers contend, four times as many jobs will be created as investing an equal amount in the oil industry would yield. What’s more, the general unemployment figure calculated by the University of Massachusetts scientists, 4.4%, is markedly lower than the current 5.7%. A total of 800,000 jobs lost in the construction sector would be compensated for if all went according to their plan.
Even though most green jobs that we’ll see emerge in the coming few years will likely be rehashed versions of existing jobs, some true glamour undoubtedly will arise in areas such as in the solar industry. In this context, the rise of truly new green jobs might hold a few surprises.
Surprise number one might be that while government investment is arguably necessary for the economy at large to transit to a sustainable model, technologies that are nearly carbon neutral could likely raise money by auctioning carbon permits on a gas cap-and-trade exchange.
The State of Nevada alone is making investments worth over $40 billion in solar projects totaling over 10,000 MW according to data from the Bureau of Land Management.
A report by CleanTechnica revealed that the state hosts two of the world’s three largest solar power plants. One of them, called Acciona’s Nevada Solar One in Boulder City reaches a maximum output of 75 MW of electricity at peak times. It went into operation in June 2007 can power 15,000 homes annually at nearly zero carbon emissions. Around 28 permanent (operations related) jobs were created but building the plant involved scores more.
Another example of a recently established solar power plant is Ausra also in Nevada. It opened a few months ago and employs 50 factory workers, making it the largest plant of its kind in the world. It has the capacity to power 700 MW of solar panels, enough to produce power for 500,000 homes. This quantity of panels would create an estimated 1,400 solar plant construction jobs. There’s optimism without bounds in this sector that the US dependency on oil can be vastly reduced. For instance, the founder of Ausra, David Mills, recently went on record saying the U.S. could nearly eliminate its dependence on coal, oil and gas for electricity and transportation without increasing costs for energy.
That's not to say that the emergence of the green labor force will also cure the US economy at large. Of course the transition path toward a sustainable economy will be a long and arduous one.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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