Sorting Global Warming Fact from Fiction

The Truth Behind the Dubious Energy Industry-Backed Study from Spain

Renewable energy investment will create jobs, lower prices, and help the planet, and that’s the truth, writes Vanessa Cardenas.

Cattle graze in front of wind mills of the Spanish utility Endesa in the Eolico Park, Spain. (AP/Javier Barbancho)
Cattle graze in front of wind mills of the Spanish utility Endesa in the Eolico Park, Spain. (AP/Javier Barbancho)

When so-called experts with little credibility and ties to the energy industry come out against renewable energy investments, you would think we would take their advice with a grain of salt.

Yet that’s not the case with media pundits, elected officials, and others who—egged on by the conservative Heritage Foundation—have latched on to a dubious study from Spain to scare lawmakers and the public into thinking that developing clean-energy technologies raises prices and costs jobs.

Spain is a global leader in renewable energy, but this study claimed that government subsidies for renewable energy projects such as windmills and solar panels cost the Spanish economy $8 billion and eliminate 2.2 jobs for every “green” job created. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The study, authored by the relatively unknown Gabriel Caldaza, estimates that renewable projects in Spain created only 50,000 jobs, yet U.N. estimates show those projects actually created 188,000 jobs.

Caldaza also claims that solar energy projects cost Spain 15,000 additional jobs last year. Yet Caldaza fails to disclose that these job losses in Spain were actually caused by the worldwide economic crisis, not government funding for clean-energy projects. In reality, government estimates show that the clean energy sector in Spain grew by 500 percent in the last three years, and it will likely create 270,000 more jobs by 2020.

Caldaza also inaccurately forecasts impending economic doom in the United States if the current administration keeps its sights set on renewable energy development. Caldaza asserts, without offering any analysis of the U.S. economic situation, that if the Obama administration continues to subsidize renewable energy projects, “the U.S. could lose 6.6 million to 11 million jobs while it creates three million largely temporary ëgreen jobs.’”

These dire projections have made Caldaza the darling of the American extreme right wing. Never mind that leading Spanish experts from Fundación Ideas para el Progreso in a letter to Congress decrying Caldaza’s study characterized his research as “not reliable or credible,” and further described the research institute he’s affiliated with as having “clear links to the energy industry.”

Investing in clean and renewable energy is not only beneficial to the environment and our health; it actually reduces household energy bills while creating jobs. A 2008 Center for American Progress study found that investing $100 billion over two years in green energy would generate 2 million jobs, creating four times more jobs than if the same amount were spent in the oil sector. And these jobs would be concentrated in manufacturing and construction—two of the worst affected sectors by the recession. Investing in green jobs could therefore act as an economic stimulus and help low skill workers such as construction workers, roofers, and assemblers.

Clean-energy companies have already over the last year invested in American manufacturing facilities and created needed employment in the United States. According to the American Wind Energy Association, or AWEA, the wind energy industry currently employs 85,000 people and generated over 35,000 jobs in 2008. Yet the AWEA warned in a letter to Congress that the United States could lose its wind energy industry—and the billions in investments and thousands of jobs that come with it—to other countries unless it adopts improved renewable energy standards. These standards, which would require at least 25 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2025, are currently being debated by Congress and have already been adopted by states such as Colorado and New Mexico.

And what about prices? The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that American consumers will save $95.5 billion from lower energy costs by 2030 if the government adopts the national renewable electricity standard currently being debated in Congress. A national renewable electricity standard, a key piece of this legislation proposed by Representatives Waxman and Markey, would save households and businesses in every state billions of dollars in electricity and natural gas bills. This would correspond to more than $5 billion in savings each for California, Texas, and New York.

The bottom line is that it is in our best interest to make a serious investment in clean and renewable energy and follow Spain’s lead. To get there, we will have to focus on the facts and not on such tall tales.

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Vanessa Cárdenas

Vice President, Progress 2050