This is what the debate against renewable energy has come to. When down on the mat, and overwhelmed by the widespread public support for renewable energy and its benefits, those who are losing the energy debate turn to the last tactic in the book: lying.
An entity called “CNS News” has published a doozie — they attacked the Section 1603 program, a portion of the federal stimulus program which almost single-handedly saved hundreds of renewable energy projects nationwide. The CNS story says that it cost the government $9.8 million for every job created. Fire and brimstone commence. Oh, did I forget to mention, CNS’s initials began from the moniker “Conservative News Service”, registered at conservativenews.org?
“Lying” is a strong word, and I don’t use it lightly. I try my best to give people the benefit of the doubt. For something to be a lie, there has to be foreknowledge of the truth, and willful intent to deceive. But here’s the thing, CNS totally lied about this, and I can prove it.
The entire premise of CNS’s outrageous claim is a report from the National Renewable Energy Lab. NREL (not “EREL” as CNS writes) published a study on the success of the Section 1603 program and its job implications on wind and solar. This study validates the program. It is key as the PTC incentive is about to expire and the industry needs an informed public to support the extension of Section 1603. NREL has developed this great tool which called the Jobs and Economic Development Index (JEDI) model to get at this information. You plug in a few variables, and voila, you can figure out (based on empirical evidence) an approximate jobs impact of wind farms and solar projects.
CNS goes to great lengths manipulating a few obscure numbers out of the report. The number they settle on is 910 jobs at a total cost of $9 billion. They mention some of the indirect number figures, but for whatever reason, they decide to ignore those figures and stick to the 910. You divide $9 billion by 910, and voila! $9.8 million per job. Here’s why that’s incorrect and wrong.
First, the 910 jobs are only the direct operations and maintenance jobs. These jobs are vital to making sure wind turbines keep spinning, and solar panels keep collecting sun. These are not manufacturing, construction or installation jobs. These are not indirect jobs, like the jobs created when construction workers buy fuel, stay in hotels, or eat at a local restaurant while on the job. What CNS has done is like saying building a home creates just one job – the job of the homeowner who cleans the house – while ignoring the construction workers, electricians, plumbers, and the manufacturers of all the components. It’s dishonest and it’s false.
Secondly, throughout the report, NREL throws out some staggering positive numbers, in narrative and also in pretty charts that CNS just ignores. NREL breaks up jobs into two categories – construction and operational. Effectively, construction jobs are short-term, one-time jobs, and operational jobs continue until a wind farm or solar project reaches the end of its useful life about 20 or 25 years down the line. So if the JEDI model comes up with 2,000 construction jobs, that’s the total number of full-time equivalent jobs over the course of a project’s construction (perhaps two to three years). If JEDI comes up with 10 operations jobs – that’s 10 permanent jobs for 20-25 years, and effectively means 200-250 full-time equivalent jobs over that timeframe. CNS’s 910 jobs were these latter kind – the permanent ones that’ll last for two decades or more. Even though the NREL study notes that these jobs are reoccurring, CNS ignored that tidbit. And the huge numbers reported during the construction phase.
Perhaps the smoking gun here is if CNS has actually read the NREL report, there’s one single line that sums everything up for them: “The results equate to 5–7 job-years per million dollars of total investment, or 11–16 jobs-years per megawatt of installed capacity.” When I read that line, I was completely floored, and that’s when I decided to write this post. It’s fine that we have a debate on our country’s energy future, but it’s not fine when a shady outfit like CNS flat out lies.