AP's Failed Fact-Check Of Washington State Gubernatorial Candidate

Jay Inslee Is Correct That Clean Energy Grew Twice As Fast As The Rest Of The Economy

The Associated Press recently presumed to fact-check Washington state Democratic candidate for Governor Jay Inslee for noting that the U.S. “clean-tech sector grew twice as fast as the regular economy between 2003 and 2010.” But Inslee's statement is correct -- it was AP that bungled its facts by confusing two terms in a report from the Brookings Institution.

AP noted that Inslee invested in SunPower, a solar company that has recently experienced layoffs, and suggested that, despite his long focus on clean energy, this investment was the reason that Inslee touted federal policies that encourage clean energy growth.

After claiming that SunPower shows the “risk” of investing in clean energy, AP tried to fact-check Inslee's statements on clean energy growth:

Inslee has said voters need to look at the green industry as a whole, not just the fate of individual companies. He's noted that the clean-tech sector grew twice as fast as the regular economy between 2003 and 2010. But that number doesn't give the whole picture.

In a Brookings Institution analysis of the industry last year, researchers determined that the overall clean-energy sector added jobs at an annual rate of 3.4 percent over that seven-year time frame, and the figure lagged the national economy's 4.2 percent annual growth. Inslee has chosen to focus on the growth in a small subset of that industry -- newer clean-tech firms -- that account for less than 10 percent of total jobs in the industry. [Emphasis added]

But AP confused the rate of growth for what Brookings called the “clean economy,” which included sectors such as organic farming and public transit, for the rate of growth of the “overall clean-energy sector.” As Brookings researcher Kenan Fikri previously told Media Matters, clean energy jobs “have grown at an average annual rate of 11.1 percent.” A slightly broader grouping of 13 clean-tech jobs (which includes a smart grid, battery technologies, carbon storage and others) grew 8.3 percent annually, “more than twice as fast as the rest of the economy measured the same way,” according to Brookings.

And while AP noted that SunPower recently experienced a drop in a stock price and layoffs, the article ignored signs that company is surviving in a difficult economy and may ultimately become a success storyThe Seattle Times reported this week that despite Washingtonstate Republican attacks on the clean energy companies Inslee has touted, many including SunPower are not “failing” as Republicans have alleged:

[Washington state Republican communications director Meredith Kenny] also describes the solar-panel manufacturer SunPower as “failing,” but in early August, the company announced it had cut costs, increased its residential market share, and would break even or better this year.

And GreenTechMedia, a news outlet that covers clean energy markets for the business community, recently profiled SunPower in a series on “Winning Solar Strategies,” writing that the company “leads in U.S. residential installs and ranks among the leading utility-scale developers.”

AP said that SunPower “illustrated the risk” of developing what Inslee “touts as the clean energy economy,” but it's not clear what risk SunPower carries for taxpayers. Other than a tax credit, SunPower's only other federal support appears to be a loan guarantee that carries almost no risk to the taxpayer, and has been transferred to NRG Energy.