THE BLOG
03/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Evidence Based Policy: What the Energy Component of the Stimulus Package Needs - Not New Nukes!

Stimulus is on its way. The news is especially welcome if you're an ailing industry crippled in the decades following Chernobyl, that hasn't managed to raise private finance to support your risky endeavours in recent history, has never managed to produce product without massive taxpayer support and has been waiting for the perfect opportunity to secure taxypayer-handouts.

Right at the last minute, the Senate Appropriations Committee managed to weasel in a provision in President Obama's stimulus package for up to $50 Billion of the package to be used as loan guarantees for new nuclear plant. This makes the $18.5 billion already authorised during the Bush administration seem like small beer. According to the NIRS the provision is vaguely worded, citing a number of "eligible" technologies -- new nuclear, clean coal (a misnomer in two words), upgrading of the transmission system and renewable energy sources.

It's down to the DoE to work out how to divvy up your taxpayer dollars now, and it's already becoming clear tht Sens. Robert Bennett (R-UT) and Thomas Carper (D-DE) would like to see this money be spent on new nuclear plant; however -- neither nuclear or coal will deliver a significant number of jobs in the next two years - the period of time this injection of funding is hoping to "stimulate" jobs creation in. Money spent on either of these technologies will have very limited impact in 'kickstarting the economy' and are just pork barrel for energy giants.

If the money gets spent on nuclear plants, it's only going to be used to prop up proposals (that are already so shaky the private sector won't touch them with a barge-pole). The nuclear industry is already demanding $122 billion in loan guarantees as no private investor would go near these risky propositions -- the Congressional Budget Office believes that "well above 50 percent" of the loans will end up in default -- leaving the U.S. with not only a legacy of more "toxic debt" from those ventures that go under, but also a legacy of "toxic waste" from those ventures that are successful -- you lose either way. If further evidence was wanted of the nuclear industries failed promises, a quick trip to Europe would showcase the multitude of problems being experienced in Olikuoto and Flammanville with the construction of the new EPR reactors.

Rather than saddle the taxpayer with more industries that will likely require a lifetime (or in the case of the nuclear industry thousands of lifetimes) of corporate welfare, why not invest in industries that will deliver jobs today, energy tomorrow and not leave us with a toxic legacy to clean up in the years after.

Increasing 'truly' clean energy provision, through the development of renewables alone has the potential to create an immense number of jobs -- supervisors and project management teams, small manufacturing enterprises, maintenance contractors, training and education, surveyors and consultancy work to carry out feasibility studies, component suppliers and roles in new Energy Service Companys -- in addition, there are unforeseen social benefits to spreading the money widely, rather than funneling it to the top: to shareholders in energy giants.

A number of commentators for this blog, notably Larry Cohen and Peter Lehner have called for Green jobs to be a major thrust of the stimulus package, and I would like to add my voice to that clarion call.

There are stacks of research that clearly demonstrate that for a given unit of energy sourced from renewables more jobs are created -- often by several orders of magnitude. The unit to watch is Jobs-year / Terawatt-hour. In this report from Europe, for nuclear power, the figure comes out at 75 -- whereas for Wind Power, those stats rise to between 918 and 2400 -- whilst Photovoltaics (whilst more expensive) dwarf that figure creating somewhere in the region of 29,580 - 107,000. [See page 9 of the linked report]. The findings are echoed by the Goldman School of Public Policy's report "Putting Renewables to Work: How Many Jobs Can the Clean Energy Industry Generate?" which using a different measure -- the Average Employment Over the Lifetime of [suitably de-rated by the capacity factor of the technology -- so you only calculate the jobs produced per "actual" estimated unit of energy] gives us figures of 7.41 and 10.56 for two Photovoltaic scenarios, compared to 1.01 for Gas [Page 4].

Comparing two scenarios [See Page 5 of the Report], we see that aiming for a Scenario where 20% of the U.S. energy would come from Renewables would generate 240,850 jobs, compared to a "business as usual" Fossil Fuels scenario, which by comparison would generate miserly employment figures of only 86,369 jobs.

A 2007 paper by Judity Lipp littered with references to "job creation", "Lessons for effective renewable energy policy from Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom", published in the journal Energy Policy explains how the explosive success of Germany's renewable energy industry is down to Feed-In-Tariff's; and partly because of the success in creating jobs, the feed-in-tarriff system has managed to survive three changes of government. In Germany alone (citing 2004 figures) 157,000 people have been employed (a tripling of 1998 figures, as a result of effective policymaking) in an industry that has helped Germany avoid 215 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 1990 and 2004 alone.

Drawing a line under years of government nuclear subsidy; realising that clean coal is a myth, and concentrating much needed funds on developing America's renewable portfolio is a sure way to job creation, sustainable communities and long term prosperity.