‘Clean’ investment said to create jobs

A new report says the Silver State could gain 15,000 jobs through investment in renewable energy.

But that job formation will carry a cost for existing businesses, according to recommendations in the study.

The report, which the Center for American Progress and the Nevada Conservation League released Tuesday, analyzed the job growth that would come from a two-year, $100 billion investment in a nationwide “clean energy” strategy designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and “create a low-carbon economy.”

The study’s verdict: America would see 2 million new jobs, and Nevada would pick up 15,000 new jobs. Many of those jobs would pay at least $16 an hour, the report said.

The study also noted that investment in green projects would especially boost jobs in construction and manufacturing, two areas hard-hit in today’s economic slowdown. Building a wind farm, for example, would require sheet-metal workers, machinists and truck drivers. Retrofitting buildings with clean energy systems would demand roofers, insulators and building inspectors.

Nevada’s share of the $100 billion would amount to $865 million, with spending on energy-efficient building retrofits, mass transit, “smart” power grids and alternative fuels such as wind and solar power.

Local environmentalists, business executives and union officials held a press conference Tuesday at Las Vegas Springs Preserve to discuss the report’s findings.

Lydia Ball, Southern Nevada director of the Sierra Club, said the report ends a longtime debate pitching job growth against green concerns.

“I’m always asked, ‘Should it be the economy or the environment?’ Well, it’s both,” Ball said.

Chris Brooks, director of the renewable energy division at Bombard Electric, testified to the “significant opportunities to diversify the economy in this state with good, high-paying jobs.”

And Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO, said the $100 billion investment would generate “huge opportunities” for Nevada’s workers.

“We’re very excited about it,” Thompson said.

But Thompson’s zeal won’t necessarily spread to other businesses, local business advocates said.

That’s because the $100 billion cited in the report would come from a federal mechanism charging companies for greenhouse gas emissions. The study’s authors advocate paying for the investment through auctioning carbon emissions permits based on an economywide cap-and-trade program that would limit companies’ greenhouse gas outflows.

Half of the $100 billion would subsidize tax credits for private businesses and homeowners to fund building retrofits and purchases of renewable energy systems. Another $46 billion would go to direct government spending in areas such as public building retrofits, the expansion of mass transit and new spending on renewable energy. The remaining $4 billion would back federal loan guarantees to underwrite private financing of building upgrades.

Andy Matthews, a spokesman for free-market think tank Nevada Policy Research Institute, said the proposal sounds like a “classic redistributionist scheme” that would shift private-sector dollars from businesses to government programs. And a complete picture of the plan’s job growth would require weighing the number of positions lost among companies that lay off workers or cancel hiring plans because of pricey new carbon taxes, he added.

“The government isn’t generating this money,” Matthews said. “You have to ask where this money is coming from, and for every effect on one side, you have to look at the effect on the other side. There are real consequences when you take money from the private sector and put it toward the government. There will be bureaucrats who need to be paid, and you’ll need government oversight committees. You have a much less efficient use of that money than you’d have in the private sector.”

But Thompson urged the plan’s detractors to consider how the investments could improve Nevada’s fiscal health.

If Nevada builds a massive solar and wind power industry, the Silver State could become an exporter of power to California and other states. And it could charge a mill tax on that power “payable to the citizens of Nevada,” he added.

Thompson acknowledged some jobs would vanish in the transition to a greener economy, but he likened the transformation to the disappearance of telephone operators. His organization represented 2,000 phone operators in 1992; today, it represents none. Technology replaced their jobs, and those operators found work elsewhere.

“This will create more jobs in the long range,” Thompson said. “Once we meet our energy needs, we have resources others don’t.”

Matthews said many businesses won’t be convinced.

“If a proposal really had significant demand or potential, then it would be able to sustain itself without government subsidies,” he said. “If they’ve got a winner, or something with real potential, the market will find a way to channel resources to it. Markets don’t lie.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

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