Remember when everyone was complaining about the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, particularly amidst the collapse of Solyndra. For those who don’t recall the immensity of the political fallout, Solyndra got a $535 million loan guarantee, went bankrupt, laid off 1100 employees and couldn’t repay its loan. Solyndra was part of a larger portfolio of 28 companies that the DOE maintained under the program.
I recall that the DOE wound up having to defend its program with a jobs analysis report, that said that more than 60,000 jobs had been created as a result of the program. This led to a reasonable debate about whether these were permanent jobs or temporary construction jobs for short term capital projects. Things got so politicized that Obama’s first political ad for his 2012 re-election campaign was a defense of his energy policies.
Well, here we are almost three years later and states are fighting over Tesla’s coming gigafactory which will bring over 6,000 jobs and $4 billion in investment to the winning state. And then SolarCity’s acquisition of Silevo should mean a factory will be built in New York that is an “order of magnitude” bigger than plants currently churning out solar panels.
So this is all to point out that renewable energy is a small but real part of the current renaissance of the U.S. manufacturing industry. And the irony here may well be that as natural gas prices creep north and electricity prices go higher, renewables will become even more important in keeping the U.S. manufacturing industry stable. The growth of the manufacturing industry has been largely dependant on a competitive advantage related to cheap domestic natural gas, an advantage that is unlikely to last too much longer.
So the next time critics go after renewable energy for all of its supposed failures, let’s remember how that early investment created lots of initial jobs and laid the groundwork for the larger industry creating long term manufacturing jobs.