What Kind Of Green Jobs Will Stimulus Spawn?

The economic stimulus plan will provide roughly $70 billion for the nation's energy economy, most of it for "green" energy. Whether that will buy more jobs than spending the money elsewhere is open to debate, but green energy advocates view it as good news.

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The economic stimulus plan will provide roughly $70 billion for the nation's energy sector - most of it for green energy. Whether that will buy more jobs than spending the money elsewhere is open to debate, but green energy advocates view it as good news. NPR's Christopher Joyce talked with energy experts in academia and business and has this report on what kinds of green jobs they expect to materialize.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: President Barack Obama says the country needs to remake its energy economy - less coal and oil and more wind turbines, biofuels and energy conservation. On energy, at least, the economic stimulus package delivers a lot of green - between $70 and 80 billion in direct spending, tax breaks and loan guarantees.

Economist Robert Poland and the University of Massachusetts has been doing some calculations on what that kind of spending could do for employment.

Mr. ROBERT POLAND (Co-Director, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts): The basic estimate is you're going to generate about two million jobs more than you would have gotten if you hadn't spent that money.

JOYCE: Poland co-directors the Political Economy Research Institute, which has been analyzing the benefits of green energy. He says spending a million dollars on weatherizing houses will generate lots more jobs than investing the same amount in oil and gas drilling, for example. That's due to the kind of work that needs to be done, not its inherent greenness.

Mr. POLAND: About 30 percent of the jobs are going to be in construction, because if we talk about the things that are in the program - that's building retrofits - that's obviously almost entirely construction.

JOYCE: Construction jobs don't pay as much as highly skilled jobs, but you get more of them per dollar. Poland cautions that loan guarantees, a significant part of the package, don't necessarily generate new business. But home weatherizing is already seeing an up tick, according to Bob Logston, who runs a Maryland company called Home Energy Loss Professionals.

Mr. BOB LOGSTON (Runs Home Energy Loss Professionals): I think it's going to get to the roof. I could see our business probably quadrupling in the next two years.

JOYCE: Logston says there are plenty of people who need the work and can do it.

Mr. LOGSTON: With the home remodeling industry slowing down and the home building industry slowing down, not a giant step for those type of people to come over to the green energy side.

JOYCE: Making buildings energy efficient may see the first benefits, but after that what kinds of jobs will the stimulus package create? Steve Flutter is vice president of Ecomagination, a division of General Electric devoted to renewable energy. GE is the country's biggest maker of wind turbines. Flutter says GE estimates there could be 116,000 new jobs just from wind projects this year.

Mr. STEVE FLUTTER (Vice President, Ecomagination): There's a degree of engineering component to this; there's a manufacturing technology component; there's an installation component, which is a very traditional skill; there's an operating component.

JOYCE: If the wind industry continues to grow, and 2008 was the industry's biggest year ever, the demand for transmission lines to carry that new electricity to urban areas will grow too. The stimulus package dedicates $20 billion in spending and loan guarantees for a bigger and more efficient or smarter grid. Flutter says building a new grid could put 80,000 people into new kinds of jobs over the next four years.

Mr. FLUTTER: I think we're going to need less meter reading and more information technology types of skills around installing and operating the smart grid.

JOYCE: The stimulus plan provides some funding to design coal-fired power plants that don't emit climate-warming carbon dioxide, but it passes over oil and gas development, and that bothers Karen Harbert, who runs the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. KAREN HARBERT (Runs Institute for 21st Century Energy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce): Green jobs are good but other jobs are good too, and other forms of energy are necessary. I mean, oil and gas are going to be part of our future, as is coal. It's a very affordable supply of base load power.

JOYCE: Another form of virtually carbon-free base load electricity is nuclear power. While the stimulus package provides loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants, Harbert says nuclear needs more attention.

Ms. HARBERT: A new nuclear plant, you know, generates about 1,500 very high-end jobs in a local community - for as long as the plant operates. It'll be much higher certainly during construction, but that's a tremendous boon to a local economy.

JOYCE: Energy economists acknowledge that it's hard to predict exactly how many new green jobs will materialize when. And there's another calculation still to be made: will a shift to greener energy mean losing jobs in traditional energy markets?

Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

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