Can 'Green Jobs' Stimulate The Economy?

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A worker puts the final touches on a solar panel system on a roof in Lafayette, Colo. i

A worker puts the final touches on a solar panel system on the roof of a building in Lafayette, Colo. Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post/AP hide caption

toggle caption Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post/AP
A worker puts the final touches on a solar panel system on a roof in Lafayette, Colo.

A worker puts the final touches on a solar panel system on the roof of a building in Lafayette, Colo.

Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post/AP

Congress has begun work on an economic stimulus package that could cost as much as $1 trillion and will likely include tax incentives to encourage investment in green technologies. Many people believe "green jobs" are an important part of rebuilding the economy, but not everyone is convinced.

In his push to win the presidency, Barack Obama often spoke of the promise of green jobs. "We'll invest $15 billion a year over the next decade in renewable energy, creating five million new green jobs that pay well, can't be outsourced and help end our dependence on foreign oil," Obama said in a November radio address.

Shaping The Future

It's not clear just how much funding the economic stimulus package will set aside for renewable energy. Sen. Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, says she hopes that in addition to projects such as road building, the package will include tax incentives and loan guarantees to boost green industries and create jobs.

"A tax incentive so people will put solar rooftops on," Boxer says. "They'll invest in solar wind and geothermal. We want to see people going to work putting solar roofs on schools."

Some of these green jobs, like solar installation, could be ramped up quickly, she says. Boxer notes that investing in green industries is also about shaping the future of the American economy.

"You not only get people to work, but you also save money in the end, fight global warming and become energy independent. Those are the kinds of things I want to see," she says.

At a committee briefing Boxer held Wednesday in Washington, green tech evangelist John Doerr called for stimulus money to be used to update the nation's electrical grid. He said a modern grid that could better handle wind and solar power would enable a green technology boom. A venture capitalist who backed Google and Amazon in their early days, Doerr says the green revolution has much greater potential for job creation than the Internet did.

"There were no installers, there were no maintenance people, there were no construction jobs," Doerr said. "That's not true in green technology. In green technology, you make things. You're dealing with batteries and biofuels and solar cells."

'Is It Worth The Money?'

Still, not everyone is convinced that green jobs are the answer to today's problems.

"They don't qualify as a stimulus. This is an attempt to sort of Shanghai the stimulus money," says Kenneth Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

He says investing in renewable energy is a long-term proposition, and a successful economic stimulus needs to have an immediate impact.

"People need to be hiring right away and building projects right away," Green says. "And there are very few environmental projects you can think of that are in that category in terms of laying on more windmill building, laying on more solar panel building. To ramp up those industries very quickly is probably not possible.

Economist David Kreutzer at the conservative Heritage Foundation isn't convinced it's even a good idea.

"A windmill might be good, weatherizing a building might be good, but we need to look at the costs as well as the benefits and compare them. Is it worth the money that we're spending," Kreutzer says.

If market forces are a guide, he says, green jobs don't pencil out.

"The fact that people aren't willing to spend the money to weatherize their own buildings says that it's not worth the money," Kreutzer says. "Now ... the federal government — have they decided that it's now worth it where it wasn't worth it six months ago when they had more money? That seems odd."

When it comes to the economic stimulus package, it seems that one person's pork is another person's bridge to the future.



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