Editor’s Note – The following article appeared in the column of Debra J. Saunders, of the San Francisco Chronicle, February 6, 2011. Reprinted by permission.
After receiving at least $43 million in aid from the state of Massachusetts, Evergreen Solar announced last month that it would be closing its manufacturing plant in Devens, Mass., laying off its 800 workers and moving its manufacturing operations to China.
Warning: These are the "green jobs" that President Obama has touted as part of his "winning the future" agenda.
The problem isn't that Obama wants to direct federal dollars toward research for alternative energy. It is in the national interest to have affordable options when oil sources are depleted.
The problem is that Obama thinks green jobs are the answer to the anemic economy recovery. And he clings to that belief in the face of contrary evidence.
Last May, the president came to solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra in Fremont to celebrate a new plant - creating 3,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent workers. President Obama exclaimed, "The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra."
Within months, Solyndra, which has yet to turn a profit, announced that it was canceling the expansion. At best, you can describe Obamaland's choice of venue as: bad advance work.
Michael El-Hillow, Evergreen Solar's chief executive, explained in a statement the reason for his company's move: "While the United States and other Western industrial economies are beneficiaries of rapidly declining installation costs of solar energy, we expect the United States will continue to be at a disadvantage from a manufacturing standpoint."
Evergreen is - this month anyway - the third-largest solar panel manufacturer in the United States. The Massachusetts plant opened in 2008 with much fanfare and generous taxpayer assistance. But just one year later, the New York Times reported, company suits were talking to Chinese officials, who could offer cheaper labor - average monthly wages below $300 as opposed to $5,400 in the Bay State - sweetheart loans and other incentives.
Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser saw Evergreen leave Massachusetts and opined in the New York Times that while he believed investing in green technology, "it always was a mistake to think that clean energy was going to be a jobs bonanza."
And: "We shouldn't pretend that cheaper solar energy will end up employing millions of our less-skilled citizens."
This leaves American solons with two choices: Keep feeding the meter - or cut your losses.
The high cost of subsidizing wind and solar power should seal the deal. According to the California Energy Commission, the cost of photovoltaic solar electricity is about 26 cents per kilowatt hour, as opposed to 13 cents for electricity powered by natural gas.
With the unemployment rate at 9.4 percent, Washington should be looking to create jobs that aren't going to run to China. Or, as Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, told the New York Times, "If the president really were serious about job creation, he would be working with us to develop American oil and gas by American workers for American consumers."
American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Steven F. Hayward likes to ask people which state has the lowest unemployment rate. The answer is North Dakota, with an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent. "The reason is they've had a huge oil and gas boom," Hayward explained. They've tripled their oil output.
As the price of oil spills over the $100-per-barrel mark, Washington ought to reconsider the "green jobs" approach. As Hayward noted, "Brown energy creates jobs and prosperity."