Obama Job Plan and the Challenge of Green Jobs

National Politics

PhotovoltaikSan Jose The President threw it up against the wall with a jobs plan that is kind of a plan and kind of a campaign statement and kind of a flying flag to see what the Republicans might salute.  A lot of it seemed mainly designed to help employers who were hiring and people who had jobs by reducing payroll taxes on both sides.  The unemployed might get an extension of benefits, which is desperately needed, but not necessarily popular.

Being in Silicon Valley and staying in San Jose near the epicenter of green jobs, I spent some time trying to learn about how to electrify bikes, which was interesting, but not actually something that will replace lost autoworker jobs.  I also tried to understand the headlines behind the bankruptcy of Solyndra and the other solar companies by talking to a local expert.  The headlines in the San Jose Mercury News today featured pictures of FBI agents walking out with boxes of paperwork trying to figure out what happened to a half-a-billion dollar federal loan guarantee that led to 1200 workers in solar panel production being laid off.  Other companies in this area had also cut back on installation programs not being able to keep up with the shifting set of state incentives.  California that used to reputedly have one of the best incentive programs for solar in the country at several dollars per watt now only gives about a quarter a water.

Talking to some industry veterans it seems clear that in solar production the USA cannot compete with billions of dollars of interest free loans in China that have sustained the industry there to the point of dominance in the industry.  For all of the rock throwing about such subsidies, the situation at Solyndra is not much different as a USA subsidy, so one wonders why the USA doesn’t borrow from the Chinese book and do a whole lot more and actually create the financing behind high investment industries with significant employment opportunities.  The FBI might find there were shenanigans, but they might simply find that Soyndra couldn’t face the Chinese competition as so many other solar companies have determined.
To create the volume of jobs we need, especially in manufacturing and production, there needs to be more investment, not just by business and with business incentives, but with full throated government backing as well.  We cannot compete with the Chinese, Vietnamese, and other lower wage countries around the world with words.  It will take dollars!