California Law Fails to Create ‘Green Jobs’… Except For Green Consultants

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Solar PV array

The AP ran an excellent investigative article recently about how, three years after California voters passed a ballot measure to raise taxes on corporations and generate clean energy jobs by funding energy-efficiency projects in schools, barely one-tenth of the promised jobs have been created, and the state has no comprehensive list to show how much work has been done or how much energy has been saved.

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Many predicted that the the Clean Energy Jobs Act would be impossible to enforce or track when it was passed by one of California’s distinctive referendums in 2012. Proposition 39 was passed by a wide margin with little actual language in the law to define what a “clean energy job” even was or how the state government would allocate the money generated for those clean energy jobs.

 

Solar Panel array

Photovoltaic solar array at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

The clean energy jobs fund was filled by changing tax language in the state code to end breaks for large corporations.

What is a ‘Green Job?’

This is a common problem for green technologies, as that while adoption of proven energy-saving technologies such as solar power generation, has been an unmitigated success in sunny California, what’s been even more successful has been the growth of the cottage industry of green energy consulting.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has defined green jobs either as “jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources,” or as “jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.”

There is quite a debate that could be had about which category actually benefits the environment more. In an economy that is bleeding manufacturing jobs, I would question the logic of subsidizing environmental consulting over the actual creation and sale of proven technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal wells.

Schools as a Green Job Incubator

California’s legislature decided to send half the money from the new tax fund to promote clean energy projects in schools, promising to generate more than 11,000 jobs each year. Instead, only 1,700 jobs have been created in the last three years. Even that has not gone smoothly. More than half of the $297 million given to schools so far has gone to consultants and energy auditors, not to install those solar panels, dig geothermal wells or tie school buildings to wind power-producing turbines or newer energy grids that can accept power from clean sources.

A spokeswoman told the AP that the State Energy Commission, which oversees Proposition 39 spending, could not provide any data about completed projects or calculate energy savings because schools are not required to report the results for up to 15 months after completion. Even though three years have passed, many schools have not even begun any actual retrofits or new energy production construction. Of those that have, the results have been, at best, mixed.

No Results Reported

The AP’s review of state and local records found that not one project for which the state allocated $12.6 million has been completed in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has nearly 1,000 schools.

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Overall, $153 million has gone to consultants and auditors for energy planning, and not toward new generation capacity or the construction. The board created to oversee the project and submit annual progress reports to the Legislature has never met, according to the AP review.

Of these consultations, many have focused on the low-hanging fruit of energy strategy, such as lighting installation. Half of the approved projects have been lighting retrofits which essentially replace light bulbs or building wiring with more efficient, newer light bulbs such as LEDs or compact fluorescent bulbs and better wiring. The light bulb strategy has taken priority over more labor intensive projects such as HVAC system replacement or the design and engineering work required by building integrated or roof-mounted solar panels and geothermal well installation.

 

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