News Story

Consultant: Green Jobs A ‘Lobbying Effort,’ Not Real Data

Activists claim 240,000 solar jobs, federal data indicates 3,295

A coalition of supporters of renewable energy and alternative fuel vehicles released a report April 9 on what they claim is a surge in “clean energy” jobs in the Midwest, with Michigan leading the way.

The announcement by Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) featured lots of photos of wind turbines and solar arrays. It prompted headlines like one from Crain’s Detroit Business, which read, “Report: Michigan adds 4,800 clean energy jobs in 2018; 9% growth projected.”

Less prominent was the expansive definition of “clean energy” jobs used in the underlying research, whereby thousands of truck drivers and assembly workers are counted if they are engaged in what the study’s authors regard as green pursuits.

Fully two-thirds of the clean energy jobs cited in Michigan in 2018 (85,061), for instance, were in “energy efficiency” industries, which includes everything from a HVAC technician installing a residential air conditioner to an engineer designing aerodynamic SUVs.

Skeptics of the new report say it has multiple shortcomings.

“The supposed ‘clean energy jobs’ report is largely an artifact of a lobbying effort by activists, not real data on jobs,” said Patrick Anderson, CEO of East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group.

Many of the job claims upon which the report is based are either improbable or preposterous, and wildly inconsistent with generally accepted government employment data, Anderson said.

He cited a table found in the national report on which the Midwest study is based. The report finds that the number of full-time workers employed in solar power generation in the U.S. tops 242,000, which compares to 3,295 reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The national report also counted 93,000 part-time workers).

E2 spokesman Michael Timberlake said in an email the disparity is explained by the methodology employed for the new report. In addition to drawing on government labor statistics, he said, researchers conducted thousands of telephone and online surveys of employers to more accurately quantify real occupations.

As an example, Timberlake said that someone who installs solar panels is often classified in government data as a roofing or electrical contractor, though that person is, in reality, a solar utility worker. E2, which describes itself as nonpartisan, is an affiliate of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a liberal activist organization.

Isaac Orr, a policy fellow with the conservative Center of the American Experiment in Minnesota, criticized the premise that massive employment in “clean energy” is a good thing.

Writing on the center’s website on April 11, Orr said employing an increasing number of workers to produce less efficient and more expensive energy “is a bad thing” which would lead to more hardship and less employment in sectors of the economy which consume energy. Anderson criticized the exercise of dividing workers along the lines of “clean” and, by implication, “dirty” occupations. Virtually every industry is striving for efficiency and reductions in environmental impact, he said.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.