The Economy as Trojan Horse

It’s Political Maneuvering 101 to encase your preferred issues within a popular Trojan Horse. So, if green is what you mean, declare its ability to end joblessness. However pretty a landscape that may paint, though, it’s of questionable accuracy:

Green technology may help drive an economic recovery in New England but the fledgling industry will not be a major engine of growth for the region in the foreseeable future, economists said at a recent conference.
The sobering assessment came during the New England Economic Partnership’s fall conference, which was held last week in Boston and focused on so-called “green-collar jobs” and whether their creation will help pull Rhode Island and its neighbors out of recession.

The real hope for “green jobs” is that a particular state will become the hub of the industry. The problem is that — as is typical of politicians — the opportunity is so obvious that multiple states are competing for the title. Government operatives are good at innovating by fad, but business people survive by innovating, period.
States — and I’m speaking mainly to Rhode Island, here — should ease regulations across the board and otherwise refurbish the track along which the economy runs and let investors and corporate types discern which has the environment most conducive to their industries.

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Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

I think the first question must be “What particular advantage does New England have for green industries?”.
I really don’t see it. Prostitution seems to be Rhode Island’s only renewable resource.

mangeek
mangeek
11 years ago

Most of the people pushing ‘green’ technology have no idea how to do a cost-benefit analysis. To them, anything with a ‘green’ label attached is good, regardless of the reality on the ground. I’ll give a few examples… I spend about $2,000 per year on heating. I spend less than $20 on cooling. To qualify for federal tax credits, I need to install ‘low-e’ windows, which means windows that -reflect- heat. This makes sense for most of the country, but more than anything, I need windows that let in each and every watt of the sun’s energy. Or the insane things I hear about saving water here in Rhode Island… We’re one of the few places blessed with abundant water, we don’t need low-flow showers and toilets here, we have plenty of water, and plenty of excess capacity (at least in my community). Rhode Island gets precious little sunlight. Solar photovoltaic are woefully inefficient here. Solar thermal collectors are worthwhile here, but not solar-to-electricity. If you see a neighbor installing solar cells, smack him over the head, he could be getting a lot more energy for his money. One thing we could do that’s ‘green’ and would boost the economy would be to better insulate homes, and have stricter requirements on the level of insulation in new construction. Since the vast majority of non-transit energy in Rhode Island seems to be spent on heating, and we don’t produce any fossil fuels, it’s macro-economically sound to waste less energy. I think policy-makers are on to this, since Rhode Island has collected upwards of $40 million for ‘weatherization’ efforts from the federal government recently. Unfortunately, I’m entirely sure that there’s no oversight of that ‘weatherization’ money, it was distributed to local non-profits, where the accounting seems to end. Theoretically, that kind of… Read more »

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

mangeek, quite a few good points there.
I was particularly interested on your points about insulation. I am near the three-decker end of RI and have owned enough of those to know there is zero insulation. I also know they have modern dimension wall cavities. Perhaps some new thinking on insulation, it would probably have to be some form of foam. I have no idea what proportion of the state’s heat energy they use.

Roland
Roland
11 years ago

Mangeek:
You cite some interesting approaches to weatherization that would certainly go further than anything that has been accomplished to date. I would only counter that individuals are far better at determining their unique ROI, which includes some non-monetary and unique component of intrinsic value, than any group of planners might mandate.
Justin:
Your trojan horse description is perfect. Not only is the NE Econ Partnership skeptical about the green economic engine, RI’s own Department of Labor concurs. In fact, the State details some 2,895 new “green” occupations by 2016 from a 2006 baseline of 32,974. Compounded over ten years, that is annualized growth of less than 1%. Industry growth like that is a drag on an economy that needs to create jobs at a rate exceeding several percent per year to pull out of our current unemployment woes. If jobs and economy are the focus, then efforts should be diverted away from “green” industry. The “hub of green jobs” concept sounds great, but the RI General Assembly has proven that it has no interest in competing with other states when it comes to attracting business.
The above data is on page 41 of this report from RI DLT:
http://www.dlt.ri.gov/lmi/pdf/trends.pdf
Also from the report: “…the majority of jobs in the ‘green economy’ will not necessarily be new occupations, but existing occupations that may require an additional layer of ‘green’ skills and knowledge.”

Ken
Ken
11 years ago

Mangeek, Warrington Faust and Roland, If you drive up and down I-295 you will see RIDOT solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. The states of New Jersey and Connecticut are heavy into residential PV installations New Jersey having the densest installations with state and cities initiative installing PV panels on every telephone pole. Both of these states are considered New England states with about the same clear day sun as Rhode Island but maybe a little more air pollution creating hazy days. You do a disservice to yourself by ignoring PV because you don’t have clear bright sunny days. I retrofitted my 2,500 sq ft house in Woonsocket long before “green” was fashionable with passive solar heat to reduce my heating and cooling bills 40%. When I sold my house in 2006 (lasted less than three weeks on market) my documented total yearly heating/cooling (keeping house temperature at 72 degrees) and hot water bill was $1,030 a year. Blackstone Valley Gas Co. (before it was purchased by National Grid) inspected my house wanting to know what I had done to lower gas usage and RISE engineers did an energy audit indicating it was best design they had seen to date. The main thing I did was insulation at 6 inches more than recommendations for heating/cooling New England area, caulked all cracks to outside, insulated basement, sill plate and floors and dry-walled, constructed old fashion door entryway air locks, moved garage out from under house accessed via new enclosed breezeway, replaced all windows with double pane insulated glass, and added a solar green house with double pane ¼ ‘ Plexiglas windows ¾ length across south facing side of house with a 8 ft diameter redwood wooden hot tub. When you looked at my house from the street all you saw was a ranch… Read more »

mangeek
mangeek
11 years ago

Ken, the PV used by RIDOT is not really significant, it’s just to power a few signs and such. PV is really not at all feasible (yet) for climates like ours, it doesn’t come close to paying for itself, even after 20 years (from what I’ve read). I’m not saying it’s useless, it’s fantastic for some things, but until they can squeeze enough wattage out of the area on my roof to power my home, it’s a waste of money. Solar thermal is great, I’m thinking about adding some myself. I’ve got a garage I could put an insulated storage tank in, so I could pump warm water into my house all night long. I’m not anti-green, I’m saying that we should do the most cost-effective things first. As far as I know, the wind resources off the coast here are amazing, we have ‘beefier’ wind off-shore than the vast majority of the country has access to. The reason to build offshore is precisely because the wind almost never stops out there and it goes all night and day. According to charts I’ve seen, Block Island Sound has the highest rating of wind quality given. While using wind is more expensive than burning natural gas, it’s clearly more cost effective than PV, and nobody knows what fossil fuels will cost tomorrow. As for ‘the view’… It’s not like adding a few hundred turbines ‘ruins’ it at all. Fears about birds and noise are reduced by using more efficient massive turbines and placing offshore. We should diversify, though. I think the Blackstone River could totally get tapped for more juice, as could parts of the bay. Also, call me crazy, but it would really kick people’s butts into gear if the energy company levied double customer fees to the 10% of… Read more »

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