Less than two weeks ago Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that requires the state to obtain one-third of its electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal power by 2020.

Currently the state’s three largest investor owned utilities generate 18% of its power from renewable sources according to the California Public Utilities Commission which is just short of the 20% target the state set for them.  But since they made a good faith effort to achieve the goal they weren’t penalized for failing to meet the state mandate.

Efforts in other states to push renewable energy have not worked out as planned.  In Maryland despite an overwhelming majority in the state legislature Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley couldn’t get his wind farm initiative passed because of concerns about how much it would cost consumers.

One state study in California showed that the new law would cost utilities 7% than coal or natural gas use and that cost will probably be passed on to consumers.

But there is an out.  If the costs of moving the energy are deemed excessive the utilities won’t be forced to meet the new targets and this likely to happen more than the PUC envisioned.

Ratepayers have already taken it on the chin as an analysis of renewable energy contracts under the old law showed that a whopping 59% exceeded market prices. But they were helping the environment.

Backers of the law claim that it will generate 100,000 new jobs in the state but we have heard this son before.  In Massachusetts Evergreen Solar announced earlier this year that they would be closing a plant in Devens due to competition from China leaving the state holding the bag on $58 million in incentives they gave the company to set up shop.  That’s a loss of 800 jobs in a job starved state.

Environmentalists are under the illusion that going green will always generate net job growth but they often forget that the higher costs of doing so actually stunt job growth in the long run as companies affected by higher energy costs trim overhead to make up the difference.

Gov. Brown may have scored major points with environmentalists by signing the law but he should have been focusing on how he was going to plug the state’s $26 million budget gap rather than increase the economic burden on cash-strapped residents.

Two years ago presidential candidate Barack Obama promised that he would create 5 million green jobs and was elected president  less tha a month later based on the country’s dissatisfaction with George Bush and the hope that he wasn’t just spinning another empty campaign promise.

Thanks partly to an overeager candidate and a brutal recession Obama has struggled to keep that promise and nowhere is that more eveident than in Ocala, Florida where workers that were retrained for green jobs with stimulus money are still waiting for them to materialize.

From the Washington Post

After losing his way in the old economy, Laurance Anton tried to assure his place in the new one by signing up for green jobs training earlier this year at his local community college.

Anton has been out of work since 2008, when his job as a surveyor vanished with Florida’s once-sizzling housing market. After a futile search, at age 56 he reluctantly returned to school to learn the kind of job skills the Obama administration is wagering will soon fuel an employment boom: solar installation, sustainable landscape design, recycling and green demolition.

Anton said the classes, funded with a $2.9 million federal grant to Ocala’s workforce development organization, have taught him a lot. He’s learned how to apply Ohm’s law, how to solder tiny components on circuit boards and how to disassemble rather than demolish a building.

The only problem is that his new skills have not resulted in a single job offer. Officials who run Ocala’s green jobs training program say the same is true for three-quarters of their first 100 graduates.

“I think I have put in 200 applications,” said Anton, who exhausted his unemployment benefits months ago and now relies on food stamps and his dwindling savings to survive. “I’m long past the point where I need some regular income.”

With nearly 15 million Americans out of work and the unemployment rate hovering above 9 percent for 18 consecutive months, policymakers desperate to stoke job creation have bet heavily on green energy. The Obama administration channeled more than $90 billion from the $814 billion economic stimulus bill into clean energy technology, confident that the investment would grow into the economy’s next big thing.

The infusion of money is going to projects such as weatherizing public buildings and constructing advanced battery plants in the industrial Midwest, financing solar electric plants in the Mojave desert and training green energy workers.

But the huge federal investment has run headlong into the stubborn reality that the market for renewable energy products – and workers – remains in its infancy. The administration says that its stimulus investment has saved or created 225,000 jobs in the green energy industry, a pittance in an economy that has shed 7.5 million jobs since the recession took hold in December 2007.

The industry’s growth has been undercut by the simple economic fact that fossil fuels remain cheaper than renewables. Both Obama administration officials and green energy executives say that the business needs not just government incentives, but also rules and regulations that force people and business to turn to renewable energy.

Without government mandates dictating how much renewable energy utilities must use to generate electricity, or placing a price on the polluting carbon emitted by fossil fuels, they say, green energy cannot begin to reach its job creation potential.

“Green energy investment has been a central talking point of the Obama administration’s job growth strategy,” said Samuel Sherraden, a policy analyst at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization. “It was a little bit too ambitious given the size and depth of the recession and the small size of the renewable energy industry.”

Sherraden said it was unwise for the administration to invest so heavily in green energy, at least if short-term job creation was the goal. He said green energy comes with “political and market uncertainty” that has overwhelmed its job creation potential.

Despite that, Obama has described the surge of clean energy spending as crucial both to the nation’s economic and environmental future.

“Our future as a nation depends on making sure that the jobs and industries of the 21st century take root here in America,” Obama said in October. “And there is perhaps no industry with more potential to create jobs now – and growth in the coming years – than clean energy.”

But other administration officials acknowledge that it is likely to be years before the spending on green energy produces large numbers of jobs. And they add that only part of the money earmarked for green energy has been spent. They also agree that the government will have to help create demand to support green energy.

Still, they are optimistic for the long term, even if the spending will not significantly ease the nation’s unemployment crisis in the short run.

Anton isn’t the only one wating for a job.

Carols Arandia, 59, has earned seven green jobs certificates since beginning classes this year, while renting a room from a friend to weather the hard times.

Often studying well into the night, Arandia is familiar with hard work. He ran a small manufacturing business in his native Venezuela before arriving in the United States in 1996. For years, he lugged around a dictionary and a notebook in which he religiously wrote down words and phrases until his English became passable. He worked seven years at Boston Chicken. Later, he sold cars.

But now, after nearly two years of being out of work and a series of classes that have not led to a job, his optimism is dimming.

“What is the point of giving somebody the tools to do something but to have nowhere to use them?” he asked. “I think it’s a great program, but I don’t see the connection with all the training and jobs. And I need a job.”

Christine Bageant, 45, also jumped at the opportunity to train in green jobs, after losing her position at the county library. She viewed the new classes as an opportunity to “get in on the ground floor of something big.”

Since then she has earned similar training certificates as Arandia. A few months ago she started looking for work as a painter. She thought her newly acquired expertise in abating lead paint would make her a hot commodity.

But many of the painting contractors she has interviewed with are tiny companies, with no more than two or three employees. They are struggling to survive, and Bageant’s expertise in lead abatement has left them unimpressed.

“Right now they are blowing it off,” she shrugged. “They don’t think it’s important.”

Officials who helped develop the training program nod knowingly when asked about the difficulty graduates are having landing jobs.

“I think this is a great program,” said Peter J. Tesch, president and chief executive of the Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Corp. “Applying it to real life, that is the challenge. In a place like Florida everybody’s talking the talk, but they’re not walking the walk. The market place has not caught up to the technical training and skill sets that have been provided these people.”

That much was obvious at a recent ceremony for 15 graduates of a solar electric training class. The students beamed proudly as family members took pictures and program officials offered words of wisdom.

Then, one-by-one, they walked up front to receive their certificates. But rather than serving as a passport to a job, the certificates were more like IOUs to be redeemed sometime in the distant future.

Ocala’s goal was to create 665 jobs in the renewable energy industry but to date graduates of the program are no better off than they were before despite their training.

“There is significant job creation potential in clean energy. But it is not revealing itself quickly or clearly,” said Jerone Gamble, executive manager of continuing education at the College of Central Florida, and a chief architect of the green jobs training program. “In the time being, we’re really selling hope.”

While it would have been difficult to predict the depth of the recession he should have known that the green jobs depends on a combination of government regulations, a relatively healthy economy and lots of federal subsidies to make solar and wind energy attractive to homeowners and businesses.

And you can’t put a solar panel on a foreclosed home which there is an abundance of in Florida so the very idea that Ocala is still bothering to train people for non-existent jobs shows what a waste of taxpayer money this program has been.

The graduates shouldn’t set their sights too high because as Jerone Gamble said in the article, they are “selling hope” much like Obama did two years ago to the American public.  And we all know how well that turned out.

Wind power long hailed as a cheap and clean source of energy has been hit hard by the realization that being cheap is not the same as being the cheapest energy source during a recession.

Take Invenergy a company that builds wind farms.  Just two years ago the company has banks that were willing to lend it millions of dollars to provide a green breeze of juice across the country.  They even had a deal to sell energy to a utility in Virginia.  But then came the recession along with a surplus of natural gas that has turned the economic numbers against wind power.

In Virginia state regulators rejected the deal citing lower costs from fossil fuels and natural gas.  They calculated that wind energy would increase rates by 0.2 percent and that any increase couldn’t be justified no matter how small in the midst of a recession.

And so it has gone in other states like Florida,Idaho and Kentucky where deals have either been scuttled or slowed down pushing the adoption of wind energy several years down the line.

While state regulators have tried to be more fiscally responsible wind energy advocates have been arguing that the failure to add clean energy to the power mix is shortsighted and harmful to the environment.

But this is a typical liberal argument that it doesn’t matter what it costs if it’s good for the environment.  Yet in the case of many wind energy projects that is debatable.

Take Rhode Island for instance where regulators earlier this year rejected an offshore wind energy deal that would have cost 24.4 cents per kilowatt hour versus the 9.5 cents per kilowatt hour cost using electricity and fossil fuels.  That’s more than double the cost to be clean and green.  Maybe the Al Gore’s and Kennedy’s of the world can afford to pay a premium for being green but most Americans can’t and won’t especially with a sour economy.

It’s a little like going organic.  Americans flocked to stores like Whole Foods when times were good and didn’t care about overpaying for food if it was organic.  But as soon as the recession hit Whole Foods went into a tailspin that they are now only recovering from.  The same goes for many green advocates who ignored the true cost of renewable energy during the boom years but now balk at the cost of doing so leading to a slowdown in the movement.

The Rich Get Richer

Remember the Pickens Plan?  Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens extolled the virtues of wind energy several years ago as oil topped $140 a barrel and spent millions on television ads extolling his vision.

The only problem was that he was going to erect a massive number of wind turbines even in areas that had little wind which would have been heavily subsidized by the government without a clear plan as to how he was going to transmit the energy generated from such far flung locations.

If his plan had gone forward the taxpayers would have been footing the bill for a very long time in exchange for a limited amount of energy.

Pickens had a plan alright.  It was how to make his next billion on the backs of the taxpayers.

I think it is inevitable that we will move to more types of renewable energy as time goes on thanks largely to taxpayer subsidies for solar panels and wind turbines.  But with this move comes increased costs which may appear small to some but multiplied over the ratepayer base will add up to millions of dollars in unneeded expense in the name of saving the environment.

Frankly I just want cheap clean energy.  Give me nuclear.