News Story

Watch The Fine Print On ‘Green Jobs’ Claims

Speculation often treated as fact, and definition may be only in eye of beholder

One of the more underreported aspects of the Green New Deal advocated by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, is its inflated claim about jobs. According to the official language, it is “a historic opportunity to create millions of good, high-wage jobs in the United States.”

Green or “clean energy” jobs are generally framed in positive terms by the mainstream media. For example, Yahoo News recently featured a story stating that “solar panel installer” was the fastest-growing job in eight states, including California.

But as of 2017, there were just 9,000 solar panel installers in the entire country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are so few of those jobs in Michigan that the BLS doesn’t even track the activity as its own category. There are also fewer than 10,000 people in the U.S. who work in private sector wind farms and solar farms — at a time when total nationwide employment is 150.6 million.

Yet, especially in Michigan, green companies have been promoted as job creators, with expectations often inflated above the actual number of jobs they provide.

For example, as early as 2009, then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm highlighted the advanced battery manufacturer A123 Systems as a key to transforming Michigan’s economy.

In 2011, Reuters reported that Michigan would create more than 89,000 jobs over the following decade from wind farm developments, solar electricity generation and the production of advanced batteries for electric cars. That 89,000 figure then went from speculation to misstated fact when many proponents of green energy subsidies later wrote reports and stories that assumed those jobs had already been created.

Many predictions never came to be, however. For example, A123 Systems had projected it could create 3,000 jobs at an advanced battery plant in Livonia. Even President Barack Obama phoned into a September 2010 Granholm press conference to promote the company by name. The jobs that appeared did not remain for long. A123 Systems eventually filed for bankruptcy in October 2012 and was bought by the Chinese company Wanxiang Group.

The number of green jobs that do appear is often inflated by expanding the definition of what qualifies as clean energy employment.

For example, the Brookings Institution released a report in 2011 that stated there were 2.7 million clean energy jobs in the U.S.

But that report included 386,116 green jobs in waste management and another 350,547 in mass transit. In other words, garbage collectors and bus drivers could be counted as clean energy employees.

Finally, some economists wonder about the trade-offs that occur when households and businesses must pay the higher lighting and heating bills associated with having renewable energy sources and their backups.

Charles Steele, an economist at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan explained in an email:

“‘Green energy’ [sources] – wind and solar – are generally not efficient. Spain implemented a massive green energy program, which required twice as many workers to produce the same amount of energy. This might sound like a great jobs program, but it meant workers in the energy sector became half as productive as before. And because energy became more expensive, it hurt the Spanish economy overall and caused total unemployment to become worse. This left Spain with more unemployed people and higher energy bills.”

“‘Green jobs,’ as in the Green New Deal, need government subsidy and support precisely because they aren’t very productive. If they were productive, private enterprise would adopt them on its own without government programs.”

Myron Ebell is the director of global warming and international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. In an email, he explained why adding more jobs to electricity production is costly:

“I keep being told that there are only 50,000 coal miners while there are now more than 700,000 people employed in renewable energy. What is left out is that coal supplies 30 percent of our electricity and windmills and solar panels supply only 10 percent. Clearly, coal miners are much more productive and create a lot more wealth than wind and solar workers. That’s why the coal industry pays high wages and the renewable industry does not.”

“The goal of a productive economy is to produce as much wealth as possible while employing the fewest number of people and requiring the least amount of capital investment possible. If the goal were to create lots of green jobs, then that could be done by banning mechanized agriculture. Replacing gas and diesel guzzling tractors and other farm equipment with horses, mules, and human labor would easily create more than a hundred million green jobs.”


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.