Beginning with a series of papers last year, we pointed out that many greens jobs are simply a recasting of traditional jobs that fall into the construction and manufacturing sectors (e.g., welders, roofers, HVAC installers.)
Construction and manufacturing have experienced major losses in recent years, and now — at least in Minnesota — it appears the green economy has hit a snag too.
Via Minnesota Public Radio’s MinnEcon blog:
The Star Tribune reports that wind-turbine maker Suzlon Group is laying off its remaining 110 workers at its Pipestone plant “because the once-booming U.S. wind energy market has lost headway.”
Earlier this week the American Wind Energy Association acknowledged last quarter was the worst since 2007 for wind energy installations. “Year-to-date installations stood at 1,634 MW, down 72 percent versus 2009, and the lowest level since 2006. In 2010, wind projects in the U.S. are being installed at half the rate as in Europe, and a third of the rate as in China.”
If the economy is recovering and green jobs and clean energy are our future, then a turbine plant in Pipestone ought to be adding jobs. Instead, the plant is idled.
As we noted after reading the Fed analysis, Minnesota policy makers need to take a serious look at the Green Jobs push. Money’s getting spent to retrain people hurt in the recession for jobs that sound great but might not be there.
Earlier in October — before the layoff news at the Pipestone wind-turbine plant — Ron Wirtz of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis wrote a strong condemnation of the “great green hope” as a significant source of employment.
Many see such expansion as an example of big job possibilities in a green economy, as crews install turbines and maintenance workers keep them spinning, pumping dollars into the local economy. A report last year by Minnesota 2020, an environmental advocacy group, claimed that if done right, the wind industry “can create thousands of jobs, [and] revive the economic base of many Minnesota communities hit hard by the recession.”
There’s just one little annoyance: As a job creator, wind power doesn’t pack much punch. For example, the new Prairie Wind development near Minot, N.D., has 77 turbines with a capacity of 115 megawatts. It has eight operations and maintenance employees—about one for every 14 megawatts of capacity, according to figures from Mike Eggl, a senior vice president with Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which operates the facility.
However, in other parts of the country green jobs are viewed as a way to awaken the economy out of its slumber. Consider this article in the Las Vegas Sun, which delves into the political ramifications of alternative energy.
The author of the piece points to North Dakota as an example of a state that’s created “an industry that wasn’t there before.” Interestingly enough, North Dakota was also used by the Minneapolis Fed to show the limited job creation possibilities of wind power.
So which is it — are green jobs still a viable option to fuel the recovery or a movement that doesn’t pack much punch? Let us know your thoughts and what’s happening in your region in the comments section below.
UPDATE: It isn’t just wind power that’s starting to take its lumps. A prominent solar-power maker in the Bay Area is also contracting. Read more here.