Former White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein gave some advice on running "clean energy" firms in Las Vegas today and admitted that these sorts of ventures don't actually create many jobs.
"When I worked for the administration I was very active in the implementation of the Recovery Act," Bernstein told the Vegas crowd. "And one thing we found about clean energy was that if you build a solar plant you are going to hire a lot of people. If you run a solar plant, it doesn't take a ton of people to run some of these plants. The labor-saving technology around the actual production of clean energy is quite intense. So some of these firms don't employ as many people as you might hope."
Of course, the whole point of the stimulus was to create jobs. So the fact that one large element of the package did not do that is troubling.
"[Obama] doesn't have a green energy policy, he has a greenback energy policy," Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said last week. "He keeps shoveling out greenbacks to failing ideas and propping them up with our tax money and with our children's money."
Bernstein was formerly Biden's chief economist, and the vice president was delegated with the responsibility of overseeing the stimulus.
UPDATE: Bernstein clarifies on his own blog:
My point was that the production of clean energy can be capital, as opposed to labor intensive—(in fact, I said “it doesn’t take a ton of people to run these plants”). But upstream industries, as noted in both the earlier blog post and the quote itself, which cited construction of clean energy plants, can employ a lot more people (i.e., they’re more labor intensive).
And btw, regardless of labor or capital intensivity, we should be investing and producing a lot more renewable energy, and not just the energy itself, but the machines, batteries, solar panels, wind turbines that generate it and the smart grid to distribute it. Yes there are jobs there, but even were that not the case, it’s essential to our energy future, security, and sustainability.