by elpresidente | 9:00 am, December 29, 2011 | Comments Off
Challenging the myth of former Gov. Bill Ritter’s fabled “New Energy Economy” was no small task, but thankfully this endeavor paid off more than its fair share of earned media dividends, and cemented my collaborative efforts with one of my favorite writers and mentors, Amy Oliver.
Way back in February, a hot tip was passed our way concerning a little project out of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Leeds School of Business being conducted on behalf of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Little did I know that this one story would eventually form the basis of much of the rest of the work I’d do this year, almost all of it in a collaborative effort with Amy to dispel the propaganda at play by environmentalists, crony capitalists, entrenched lobbyists, and others determined to promote “clean/green” energy on the taxpayers’ dime.
Here’s a clip from the original report, “What is a green job?”:
The six-month, $265,000 survey commissioned by Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment uses funds authorized by the 2009 America Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This includes $3,877,949 in grant money from ARRA designated for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry for a multi-state research project dubbed, “Northern Plains and Rocky Mountain Consortium: Researching the Green Economy” (PDF) The survey includes Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Iowa:
“This project entitled, ‘Researching the Green Economy’ will create a consortium consisting of workforce agencies in six contiguous states to improve labor market information (LMI) collection and research in order to enhance the labor exchange system for green careers within and between the participating states. This collaborative effort will allow researchers to effectively distribute green surveys, devise new methods to close the information gap pertaining to green jobs, and research the impact of green technologies on the workforce. The resulting research aims to build a sustainable dialogue relating to green labor demand and supply, build an LMI system sustaining those relationships and establish a design for evaluation as an integral part of a sustained effort.”
While the project was supposed to conclude in April, the government report did not actually appear until the last week of July.
After reviewing the report, I broke the news on the CDLE “green jobs” survey in late August:
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment released an “Interim Report on Green Jobs in the Colorado Economy” in late July estimating that 61,239 jobs, or roughly 2.8% of the state’s workforce, can be classified as a “green job” under the rubric drawn up by CDLE, the Office of Labor Market Information, and the Business Research Division of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School Business, which conducted the survey.
The “exploratory” survey–”not intended as a definitive statement describing the green economy in Colorado”–was commissioned by CDLE through a $265,000 grant (out of a total of more than $3.8 million) authorized by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and administered as part of a much larger multi-state survey that included Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Iowa.
The stated objectives of the joint CDLE/LMI survey included qualifying the types of green occupations, training needs, wages, and ranking factors that influence or inhibit the growth of green jobs, in addition to the overall goal of establishing a baseline number of total green jobs in the state.
To promote consistency within the multi-state study and due to Colorado’s later entrance in the project, the methodology and survey characteristics were adapted and retained for use in measuring green jobs in the state’s labor market, according to the report.
The report admits that classifying jobs as green is “highly dependent” on subjective measures, that there is a potential for self-selection bias in reporting by those firms surveyed, and a “broad definition of what constitutes a green job” is open to interpretation.
Furthering the notion of a broad and comprehensive green employment definition, the survey provided a range of potential activities for companies to consider in defining a green job and concluded that, “the job itself must have, as part of its function, paid activities that produce an environmentally friendly product or service” in order to be classified as an eligible green job.
In addition to casting a wide methodological net, the report acknowledges that “most” of the jobs included in the results “pre-date the green economy,” with many having been repurposed or adapted to fit into a “green niche.” No specific numbers are offered.
So Amy and I turned to the Gazette, who happily printed our guest column, where we added quite a bit of context to that CDLE report–and the results weren’t good for green jobs in Colorado:
“Most” of the jobs, according to CDLE, actually “pre-date the green economy,” but the report fails to provide any explanation.
If accurate, the results cast doubt on CDLE’s estimate, as pre-existing jobs repurposed for the green economy are not job “creations.” Transforming a job — say from coal to wind — is still the same single job, only redefined.
A similar July study by the Brookings Institution put Colorado at 2.2 percent, or roughly 51,000 jobs, 20th in the country.
Differing methodologies have yielded no consensus on when the green economy began, a reliable green jobs estimate, potential growth rate over time, and, most importantly, any unintended externalities.
For example, a 2007 Pew study concluded there were 17,000 clean energy jobs in Colorado, an increase of 2,700 jobs dating back to 1998. Brookings, measuring from 2003-2010, estimated 16,250 jobs were added over seven years.
The CDLE “snapshot” survey, however, isn’t helpful here either, as the results “cannot be interpreted to determine any relative growth or decline in the number or quality of jobs in Colorado over a period of time.”
But compared to a 2007 American Solar Energy Society estimate commissioned by the Governor’s Energy Office and Xcel Energy that claimed more than 91,000 green jobs, the CDLE report actually would indicate a loss of 30,000 positions, a 9.2 percent annual decline.
The Gazette column, combined with news later that same week in early October that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden would be cutting staff despite nearly $300 million in government stimulus funding (another breaking news fact from Amy and me), led to my first on-air TV spot appearance on CBS4:
“You have the desire to create green jobs but all we’re creating is pink slips and red ink,” Michael Sandoval with the Independence Institute said.
Sandoval questions if the government is getting a good return on its investment. He pointed out government studies showing that Colorado lost 30,000 green energy jobs, even as NREL’s budget grew by 60 percent.
“When it comes at taxpayer expense, we’re very concerned about that,” Sandoval said.
Any other mentions of this story in local media, given the September implosion of Solyndra and a sharp increase in scrutiny for all renewable energy projects, whether subsidized by the Department of Energy loan guarantee program or not?
Instead, the Post, aside from their one sentence recap of the CDLE report in September, linked to the Loveland Reporter-Herald’s write-up of The Solar Foundation’s “solar jobs census” that found Colorado in first place for the number of solar jobs per capita–according to the solar industry’s PR firm:
Colorado is leading the nation in the number of solar jobs it provides, new U.S. Census data show.
According toAugust 2011 data from the National Solar Jobs Census there are an estimated 1,020 solar businesses and 6,186 solar jobs in Colorado. This ranks the state No. 1 nationally for solar jobs per capita and No. 2 for overall number of solar jobs behind California.
Note the erroneous and misleading “U.S. Census data” line–this was an industry survey, not a document provided by the U.S. government.
Government report on green jobs? Meh. Industry report touting green jobs (solar in particular)? Print!
The most fascinating aspect, and one that only CBS4 picked up on, were the discrepancies between two reports commissioned by two separate Colorado governmental agencies–the Governor’s Energy Office and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. One might think that such a drastic difference in the number of so-called “green” jobs estimated by two separate agencies nearly 4 years apart, especially a negative one that could cast doubt on the whole initiative in the first place, would elicit a larger media investigation (note that the reports, from 2007 and 2010, coincide with the term of Ritter’s administration).
Sadly, no deeper plunge into the statistics has, as of yet, been provided.
Nor does the large fact that, as Amy and I quoted in our guest column and I showed in the original report, the survey itself indicated that of the green jobs they actually did find using the largest definitional net possible still yielded a rather paltry number and “most,” according to the CDLE report and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics in testimony before Congress, PREEXISTED the current green jobs economy.
Providing a corrective to this myth continues to be perhaps the highlight of the work done in 2011.
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