Sunday, October 11, 2009

Green Jobs and Energy

What are green jobs, and how does energy production tie in? The current thinking among the Carbon is Killing Us Crowd, those who devoutly believe that CO2 in the atmosphere is already causing catastrophic world-wide changes, is that green jobs derive from reducing or eliminating a fossil-fuel economy in favor of increasing a renewable energy-driven economy.

As one example, in California, the Air Resources Board (ARB) states that job losses in low-intensity industries will be more than offset by job gains in high-intensity industries. Their definition of "job intensity" is such that a major power plant that burns natural gas (and has few employees per unit of production, kWh electricty) has a very low job intensity. In contrast, a wind power farm with hundreds of windmills has a high job intensity due to the greater number of employees required to service and repair the windmills. This is a two-fer for the greenies, as evil carbon is not emitted, and more people have a job.

Yet, just a few decades ago, it was patently obvious that high labor cost was a hindrance to economic efficiency. To name just a few fields, bookkeepers were quite common before the computer age, but automation now does the job. Automated factories require far fewer employees than did the older, manually operated factories.

The green power revolution is said to cut jobs in traditional, fossil-fuel plants, and create many times the jobs in the green collar field.

This week saw a major announcement of job losses in the fossil-fuel plants, as Sunoco announced the closing of an oil refinery in New Jersey with the loss of 400 permanent jobs and hundreds more independent contractors. Should we wait to see the announcement of what, 3 times that number of green jobs? That would be roughly 1500 to 2000 more green jobs if the greenies' jobs-math is correct. One must wonder (as I certainly do) just how long is required for those 1500 to 2000 new green jobs to appear, and those displaced workers have steady paychecks again. Will that be by Christmas, so everyone has a merry Christmas? I doubt it.

The closure of the Sunoco refinery also plays into the Grand Game - the world-wide competition to provide energy. New refineries are under construction world-wide, and a couple of major expansions are underway in the U.S. India started up a very large refinery almost a year ago, and is exporting the products, some of which are imported by the U.S. Excess refining capacity drives down the price of petroleum products - this is basic economics - and that encourages greater consumption. More and more refineries will close, especially those that are smaller and inefficient compared to the larger and modern refineries.

As petroleum prices decrease, the economic incentives for renewable power plants also decrease. Hybrid electric, and pure electric vehicles have an initial cost premium that is supposed to be offset by the fuel savings - but only if petroleum fuels are sufficiently costly. At this time, the additional $3 to $4 thousand premium for a hybrid vehicle is simply not a wise investment.

Obama's Cash for Clunkers program accelerated the purchase - distorted the market - of high-miles-per-gallon vehicles and the (literal) destruction of older, gas guzzling cars. Thus, the demand for gasoline is lower than it otherwise would be, the gasoline price is also lower, and refineries in the U.S. are shutting down. Yet, now the automotive companies see fewer customers following the Cash for Clunkers fiasco, as a person with a new car will not likely set foot in a car dealership for several years.

And so it goes in the Grand Game. Hybrid cars that are not worth the price, oil refineries shutting down, fossil-fuel workers out of work, renewable power plants stagnating due to low economic incentives, and oh yes, crops barely beating the killing freeze this year to provide raw material for the bio-fuels industry. Who knows what the summer of 2010 will bring in that arena.

One wonders if the farmers will be asked to hire more workers as green jobs, and park the tractor in the barn. We tried that for centuries, using manual labor on farms. Those are exhausting, monotonous jobs that paid very low wages. Still, they are green jobs. There are approximately 700 newly-jobless workers in the New Jersey area. Does anyone think that farmers will hire any of them?

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