Green job hype? Pipestone wind turbine plant idled

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We made a big deal a couple weeks ago about an in-depth analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis throwing cold water on the idea that “green jobs” will drive the new economy.

Among its points the Fed waived off a Minnesota 2020 report claiming that if done right, the wind industry “can create thousands of jobs, [and] revive the economic base of many Minnesota communities hit hard by the recession.”

It doesn’t work that way, Fed writer Ron Wirtz wrote: “As a job creator, wind power doesn’t pack much punch….”

Xcel Energy has the most wind-generated power of any utility in the country, yet “it’s really hard to quantify” the effect of the green movement specifically on company employment, said Beth Chacone, environmental policy manager for Xcel. “I know [the green economy] gets a lot of press, but we’re not sure there is job creation.”

The Fed’s analysis became all too real tonight.

The Star Tribune reports that wind-turbine maker Suzlon Group is laying off its remaining 110 workers at its Pipestone plant “because the once-booming U.S. wind energy market has lost headway.”

Last week, the American Wind Energy Association acknowledged last quarter was the worst since 2007 for wind energy installations. “Year-to-date installations stood at 1,634 MW, down 72 percent versus 2009, and the lowest level since 2006. In 2010, wind projects in the U.S. are being installed at half the rate as in Europe, and a third of the rate as in China.”

If the economy is recovering and green jobs and clean energy are our future, then a turbine plant in Pipestone ought to be adding jobs. Instead, the plant is idled.

As we noted after reading the Fed analysis, Minnesota policy makers need to take a serious look at the Green Jobs push. Money’s getting spent to retrain people hurt in the recession for jobs that sound great but might not be there.

Yet, the competition among cities and states to spend money to attract green jobs is picking up speed. The Twin Cities “Thinc.GreenMSP” effort is “an unprecedented economic-development partnership between the two cities to retain, grow and attract green-manufacturing businesses and jobs” in the metro area.

The shutdown of a southwest Minnesota wind turbine plant and the Minneapolis Fed’s analysis ought to force a serious discussion about whether the Green Jobs promise is worth the hype.