Conservative Media Distort Jobs Benefits Of Renewable Energy Grant Program

Conservative media outlets are misrepresenting job estimates to suggest that a stimulus grant program for renewable energy projects has been a waste of taxpayer money. In fact, in just two years the program has supported up to 75,000 jobs and has propelled growth in the renewable energy industry.

Earlier this week, Congressional Research Service analyst Molly Sherlock testified before Congress on the jobs impact of the Sec. 1603 grant program, which was established by the Recovery Act to provide grants in-lieu of existing tax credits for renewable energy projects. Sherlock cited a recent analysis by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) which found that the projects that benefitted from the grant program have supported up to 75,000 direct and indirect jobs per year since it began in 2009, including construction jobs and long-term operations and maintenance jobs.

Based on NREL's figures, she estimated that the program itself has created 4,021 direct jobs per year, including 3,666 construction jobs and 355 ongoing operational jobs. Including indirect jobs, that number rises to as many as 31,000 jobs per year. Sherlock noted that these rough estimates “may understate actual job creation” because they don't factor in how many of the projects that received grants were motivated by the 1603 program.

But that didn't stop the right-wing media from cherry-picking data from her testimony to distort the success of the program. The Washington Free Beacon reported that the “Obama administration spent $10 billion to create 355 renewable energy jobs per year.” Meanwhile, CNS News reported:

The Obama administration distributed $9 billion in economic “stimulus” funds to solar and wind projects in 2009-11 that created, as the end result, 910 “direct” jobs -- annual operation and maintenance positions -- meaning that it cost about $9.8 million to establish each of those long-term jobs.

This faulty math discounts thousands of direct construction jobs, let alone the tens of thousands of jobs created in supporting industries.

In recent months, the 1603 program has faced an onslaught of attacks from conservative politicians and media who have tried to paint the program as wasteful and ineffective. E&E News reported:

The 1603 program has increasingly become a target in the GOP narrative of the administration's failure to produce so-called green jobs, especially as the controversy over Solyndra winds down.

But this narrative doesn't stand up to the facts. According to the NREL analysis, the 1603 program has supported more than 23,000 projects and generated up to "$44 billion in economic output" since 2009. These projects have added 13.5 GW of renewable energy to U.S. generation capacity -- enough to power 3.4 million homes. A Congressional Research Service report concluded that the program “may lead to additional investments in renewable energy generation capacity, and help to enhance the national renewable energy portfolio.”

And independent analyses have found that the 1603 grant program is more effective at promoting renewable energy growth than the existing tax credits that the grants can replace. DOE's Lawrence Berkley National Lab found that relative to the ITC or the PTC, the 1603 program “provides significant economic value to many renewable power projects.” This point was echoed by the CRS report, which stated that “Section 1603 grants may be a more economically efficient mechanism than tax credits for delivering benefits to the renewable energy sector.”