Dueling Studies -- Does Renewable Energy Create or Destroy Jobs?

Last Updated Apr 10, 2009 4:13 AM EDT

Energy becomes a more politicized issue every day. Case in point: A new study showing that the renewable energy industry actually destroys jobs. Coming from Spain's Juan Carlos University, the study "reveals with high confidence," in its own words, that each new job in the green sector destroys 2.2 jobs in other industries.

Here's how:

Of course, as we all know from experience, reducing complex systems to simple equations can provide some, er, interesting results. Aside from the calculations they're so confident in, the study's creators also happily apply Spain's experience to the United States, though the latter so far lacks the particular incentive structures its overseas peer instituted.

There's plenty more commentary on this study elsewhere. Unfortunately, it all falls roughly into two camps: Republicans who love that 2.2-jobs-lost figure, and Democrats who cry foul and brandish a fistful of their own studies. But the second group's reports also tend take strong cues from the political motivations of their authors, like one from Vote Solar covered at Green Wombat, who notes without blinking an eye that the organization wrote the report to influence Nevada regulators.

What I have yet to see is a study that examines renewable energy from a non-partisan standpoint. I'm not holding my breath. Instead, I expect the theatrics to continue, with one side promising a tremendous boom from renewables, and the other unalloyed gloom.

What's lost in the political in-fighting is any attention to the subtleties of job creation. Is one solar installer better than two coal miners? How do they compare in terms of pay, skills, education? Is the labor cost for renewable energy higher or lower than fossil fuels. And does anyone care that it's probably preferable for it to be lower? For now, these sorts of questions aren't considered particularly important -- only numbers and headlines are.