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Experts: Green Jobs Growing, But Policy Must Keep Pace

Between 2 million and 2.4 million jobs have been created by the $80 billion in Federal Recovery Act money devoted to clean energy, said Steven Chu, Secretary of the Department of Energy. However, the US must regain the lead it once held in renewable energy if it wishes to be eocnomically competitive in the decades to come, he told the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference.

In the 1990's the US had about 45% of market share in solar photovoltaic cells, he said. How, that share of the world market has fallen to about 5%, with countries such as Germany and China making serious advances in the field.

Existing legislation and proposals could have an impact, Chu said, projecting that Recovery Act funding should double America's renewable energy generating capacity by 2012. But in order to sustain that growth, investment tax credits and other policies should operate on a 10- to 15-year cycle, he noted. Many of the tax credit policies targeting renewable energy expire after two years.

The effect of policy on the renewable energy sector (and tis job creation potential) was on the minds of many at the green jobs conference. Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, pointed out that the oil industry began receiving permanent tax credits in 1916. By contrast, the solar industry has been subjected to sporadic tax credits. Also, Resch asserts that renewal of Treasury grants (which give a cash grant in lieu of a tax credit) and other programs are critical to many proposed solar projects on the drawing boards. Whereas the Treasury grants are relatively inexpensive, Resch calculating that the public outlay comes to about $90 per job. As of February, the Treasury had given $81 million in grants to 182 projects.

In other sessions of the green jobs conference, the vision of how a green employment economy varied greatly as advocates discussed and debated the sectors future prospects.

Shorter working hours may hold the key for spreading around the work, said Juliet B. Schor, economics professor at Boston College and author of the upcoming book "Plentitude; The New Economics of True Wealth." Schor said that average working hours for individuals had dropped significantly during the last 200 hundred years, but in the the late part of the 20th Century in the United States they began to rise again. She also noted that governments address the overall demand for goods and services: even if the eco-footprint of individual goods drops, the world is consuming more and more so the aggregate level of pollution could easily climb.

But to Robert D. Atkinson a major technological shift is needed to truly take advantage of new investments in green energy and jobs. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. He asserted that simply adjusting prices would not be sufficient to make the cuts necessary to prevent environmental problems.

However solving the political, economic and philosophical problems will pay dividends. James W. Cicconi, AT&T Vice President for External and Legislative Affairs, pointed to a recent study that incorporating more broadband into economic and social activity had the potential to reduce carbon emissions by 22 percent.