Elusive job predictions for wind and solar energy

One of the shaky promises made at times by those who want to reduce sharply the use of traditional energy such as oil and natural gas -- and heavily subsidize wind and solar power -- is that it will create lots of jobs in "green energy" and boost employment overall.

But that claim has often been put forth without evidence to back it up.

Solar power, for instance, frequently needs far fewer workers than other types of energy production.

"It's just not that labor-intensive," engineer Howard Axelrod recently pointed out in The New York Times.

That doesn't mean higher efficiency is a bad thing, of course, but energy production isn't truly "efficient" if it's propped up by government subsidies. In Texas, for instance, it takes $1.6 million in tax abatements to lure one wind energy job to the state. That's about 10 times the cost of creating a traditional manufacturing job!

And alternative energy production doesn't necessarily mean a net gain in jobs.

"Build enough solar plants and some coal plants will shut down; that would amount to firing Peter to hire Paul," The New York Times noted, adding that the question of net job creation often doesn't even come up in discussions of solar power.

Unfortunately, some high-profile alternative energy failures have not persuaded the federal government to stop offering huge subsidies.

California solar panel manufacturer Solyndra recently went bankrupt after receiving a half-billion-dollar federal loan. Taxpayers were stuck with the bill. Yet even after Solyndra's failure, the Department of Energy rushed $5 billion in additional loans to other solar power companies just hours before the expiration of that disastrous subsidy program.

During a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, conservative U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, of Tennessee's 4th District, aptly summed up the federal government's absurd approach to solar energy. He said it is like a Tennessee farmer who drives to Alabama to buy watermelons for $1 apiece, then resells them in Tennessee for 75 cents -- and finally "comes to the conclusion that he needs a bigger truck."

Subsidies for energy -- whether traditional or alternative energy -- should end. And government should get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the energy market.

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