George Michael: Green jobs programs go belly up

September 21, 2011|By GEORGE MICHAEL

Don't look for Vice President Joe Biden or President Obama to make a big "green job" announcement anytime soon. With all the solar energy companies declaring bankruptcy the last few weeks, it is hard to keep score of the failures. As National Review Editor Rich Lowry noted in a recent article, "We have seen the future, and it went bankrupt."

In May 2010, President Obama visited solar power company Solyndra and called it "a testament to the American ingenuity and dynamism." What it actually represented was a false hope in government to create jobs that actually help our economy in any way. The Obama administration had arranged special financing for a few favored political insiders who would get their money back if the company failed. And failed it has, recently declaring bankruptcy.

Of course, government funds were also committed to the tune of a half billion dollars as part of the stimulus spending that was supposed to get the economy rolling. Unfortunately, taxpayers are on the hook now for most of this money since we did not receive any special arrangements for return of our 'investment.' Don't look for the national media to provide much in the way of details about this scandal — unlike their coverage of Enron some years ago.

Even the White House's own Office of Budget and Management warned in 2009 that Solyndra's chances of success were not good and that the company already showed potential signs of trouble. But the president and the Department of Energy pushed ahead despite these misgivings.

News about "green jobs" out of Seattle is not good, either. In an online KOMO News story titled "Seattle's 'green jobs' program a bust," interesting details have emerged about how such government-run programs really work.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced in 2010 that Seattle had won a $20 million federal grant to insulate crawl spaces and attics for Seattle homeowners. The news report indicated that "the announcement came with great fanfare." The mayor had even gone to the White House on the eve of Earth Day to appear with Biden to make a nice political splash about the value of such government initiatives.

Biden cooed that this program was a great "triple win" that would boost the economy, reduce consumer bills and lower greenhouse gas emissions. The goal of the program was to retrofit 2,000 homes in poorer neighborhoods in Seattle while providing 2,000 "living-wage" jobs for workers. A year later, the report is that "only three homes had been retrofitted and just 14 new jobs have emerged from the program."

Michael Woo, director of progressive Got Green, a community group working in social justice and the environment, lamented, "The jobs haven't surfaced yet." He is further quoted as saying "It's been a very slow and tedious process. It's almost painful, the number of meetings people have gone to. Those are the people who got jobs. There's been no real investment for the broader public."

Who is being helped the most by this program? According to Woo, it is the people who already have jobs. In other words, government bureaucrats. This is very typical. Government programs are very inefficient due to the bloated bureaucracy best known for its tedious approval processes with very little benefit trickling down to the people who could use it. Private businesses would not survive such scenarios.  

As it turns out, the buildings that have been upgraded so far are the Washington Athletic Club (just the folks who really need help!) and a handful of hospitals. Much like our foreign aid, the money for such programs ends up in the accounts of the politically connected with a few crumbs going to the intended targets.

In another recent news item, a big Massachusetts clean-energy company, Evergreen Solar, announced in August that it was filing for bankruptcy. Evergreen had already closed its taxpayer-supported Devens factory in March with a loss of 800 green jobs. The $58 million the Massachusetts legislature had provided for Evergreen is now being viewed as a waste of money.

The problem with the approach by the Democratic Massachusetts leadership has been, according to the head of the state GOP, putting "government subsidies into their pet projects instead of offering board based relief to all Bay State employers." Evergreen is laying off an additional 65 workers at other U.S. and European plants. Evergreen Solar stock was selling for $103 four years ago. It was at less than 20 cents per share this week. Ouch.

What a waste! The bigger picture here at home should be to let the market operate, which will reward the most-efficient producers while letting the losers fail based on supply and demand. And please, no more green energy initiatives using taxpayer money.

George Michael, who lives in Williamsport, is a former principal of Grace Academy. His email address is

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