Last Updated Jan 12, 2010 12:38 PM EST
"Building a robust clean energy sector is how we will create the jobs of the future," President Obama claimed. "The Recovery Act awards I am announcing today will help close the clean energy gap that has grown between America and other nations while creating good jobs, reducing our carbon emissions and increasing our energy security."
The White House cites a few green-tech winners to demonstrate the breadth of these tax breaks, including Itron, Inc., a smart grid firm partly owned by Al Gore's investment group (as of at least 2008's SEC filings) and PPG Industries, a solar company.
In dollar terms, the big winners include United Technologes' Pratt & Whitney division, which will get a $110.4 million gift to build jet engines. Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Polysilicon, two solar component manufacturers, were the other firms locking down $100+ million tax breaks. The biggest break, at $150 million, is going to Volkswagen's Chattanooga operations. The White House didn't disclose how this particular tax break will be used for green purposes, although a company press release describes their upcoming facility as a "LEED-aggressive manufacturing plant" (LEED means it will be a registered "green building").
Those who believe the free market will most efficiently deliver a greener economy are protesting yet another example of government picking the winners in the energy marketplace. However, this time, there is a more obvious dollar and cents problem with this program.
Those 183 projects will only create 17,000 jobs (and that figure, highlighted by the White House, is based on estimates provided by the winning bidders, not an independent study). Yes, folks, that means taxpayers are essentially handing out $135,295 for each "green job" that's supposedly going to be created by these government subsidies.*
Sure, it is possible that these investments will create even more jobs down the road. But it is equally plausible that these corporate welfare schemes weaken our economy's competitiveness.
And finally, whenever you read a "green jobs" story, keep in mind that there is still no consensus as to what type of position should count as such. That's why Congress has allocated $7.8 million to help the Bureau of Labor Statistics figure it out and start tracking green job growth by 2011.