One of the much-touted bright spots for the future of manufacturing in the U.S. and the economy overall is the green energy revolution. Part of this uprising (we have nowhere to go but up) includes companies producing products for wind, solar, and nuclear power and creating high-paying jobs in the process.
Just yesterday, President Obama announced government approval of an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to help Southern Co. build a nuclear power plant in Georgia that will create thousands of "well-paying, permanent jobs in the years to come."
As reported in Business Week, Obama said the U.S. "can't keep on being mired in the same old debates" over nuclear power because energy production affects the nation's economy and security.
"Whether it is nuclear energy, or solar, or wind energy, if we fail to invest in these technologies today, we'll be importing them tomorrow," the president said in a speech in Lanham, Maryland.
If we are to believe the points raised by John McCormick (Siliconsamurai) in his article High-Paying Green Jobs in U.S. – Another Fantasy? (published on News Blaze), tomorrow may come sooner than expected.
McCormick began by relating a story about a neighbor who fell for a work-at-home scam in which she had to pay for training to get a job assembling small items at home. "If she had the slightest grip on reality she would never have believed she could compete with third-world or even second-world workers making $1/day."
He went on to say, "In the same way today some parts of the government are proposing spending lots of money to train U.S. workers to build solar panels and wind turbines," which reminded him of another neighbor who lost his job 10 years ago at the age of 55 and was paid to retrain in computer technology. "Some government agency actually thought he could compete with high school graduates who had been working with computers all their lives. He couldn't even touch-type. Needless to say, he found no employment as a computer technician or network engineer."
McCormick believes the same fate experienced by his neighbors "awaits most unemployed adults in the U.S. who might be looking to make a new career in green energy and rise much above the recycling or basic assembly level. China is already the dominant producer and probably no one can compete long-term."
He cited a New York Times article from August 2009 that said, "Chinese companies have already played a leading role in pushing down the price of solar panels by almost half over the last year. Shi Zhengrong, the chief executive and founder of China's biggest solar panel manufacturer, Suntech Power Holdings, said in an interview that Suntech, to build market share, is selling solar panels on the American market for less than the cost of the materials, assembly and shipping."
And Suntech's labor costs are scary-low by U.S. standards. It reportedly pays graduate engineers $7,000 per year.
McCormick said, "Because of 'buy American' provisions and potential backlash, the Chinese are building factories in the U.S. (Suntech is building its first U.S. plant in Arizona), but only to connect the solar cells made in Asia - in other words, only the most basic blue-collar assembly jobs - up to 150 workers TOTAL."
He provided more ammunition to support his premise that China has the upper hand as a green technology supplier (including being the world’s largest maker of wind turbines), concluding that the country "has a strangle-hold on the world's supply of the most critical material needed for electric cars, solar panels, guided missiles, wind turbines, cell phones, even the flu drug Tamiflu."
It has "the money, the political will, the engineers, the cheap labor, the weak environmental protection, virtually ALL the most critical materials, what more do they need?"
As federal and state governments begin pumping money into green energy initiatives, it's good to keep in mind that these are positive steps for our environmental and economic well-being, but they likely are not the panacea for all that ails the economy, including the dearth of good-paying jobs. No fantasies please — fewer fantasies mean fewer bubbles to burst.
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