While the presidential race is rife with chatter about "the next Solyndra" and jokes about windmills on the back of cars, the clean energy industry has been generating slow but steady progress in creating jobs. But as Congress debates whether to extend a crucial tax credit for the wind industry, that political uncertainty is slowing down job creation.
At least that's the argument from Environmental Entrepreneurs, a business group of professionals in the renewable energy industry. According to a tally of clean energy project announcements out Thursday, new starts will only create 2,300 jobs in the second quarter of 2012, as opposed to 9,100 in the first.
Jobs numbers may be down because of an ongoing debate in Congress over whether to extend the production tax credit, which cost $1.6 billion this year but attracts private investment. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney opposes extending the tax break as an example of government favoritism.
"This year the extension has been mired down in partisan politics, and therefore there's even more uncertainty around whether or not it will be extended," said Judy Albert, the organization's executive director. "As a consequence, projects are being shelved, turbine orders are not being placed, and it's inevitable that there are layoffs and job losses."
Things could get even worse: if the production tax credit that has powered the wind industry to record levels of installed megawatts over the last few years is killed, the American Wind Energy Association estimates that 37,000 jobs could be lost overall. In places like Iowa where wind energy has blossomed, even conservative politicians like Republicans Gov. Terry Branstad and Sen. Chuck Grassley have called on Mitt Romney to back off his anti-wind rhetoric.
"Our point in pulling this together was to underscore that there is reality outside the beltway," said Albert.
Overall, Environmental Entrepreneurs estimates, as many as 37,409 jobs could eventually be created from the green energy projects announced during the second quarter. The group tracks only announcements, not eventual job creations, so actual numbers may be lower.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Environmental Entrepreneurs in the final paragraph.