There was no shortage of suggestions when the National Clean Energy Summit convened in Las Vegas last month to contemplate how to build a new clean-energy economy and create millions of so-called green jobs along the way.
Among the most popular proposals, despite skepticism in some quarters, was a call to create construction, manufacturing and administrative jobs through a building-retrofit program.
"The low-hanging fruit is the simplest but least sexy thing, fixing what we are doing now and becoming more efficient," former President Bill Clinton told conference participants Aug. 10.
Retrofitting buildings with energy-efficient lighting, windows, insulation or climate-control systems, for instance, could put Americans back to work in the industries hardest hit by the economic downturn, according to a report released recently by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for American Progress, a public-research group headed by Clinton's former chief of staff, John Podesta.
About 1.6 million U.S. construction workers are without jobs, or 17 percent of the total construction workforce. The number reaches 25 percent in some of the hardest-hit areas of the country, such as California and Arizona. Additionally, 2 million U.S. manufacturing workers are unemployed, 12 percent of that workforce.
The report, titled "Rebuilding America," contends that if the United States committed to retrofitting just 40 percent of its commercial and residential building stock -- or 50 million buildings -- in 10 years, it can create 625,000 permanent jobs.
'Green' Jobs a Flight of Fancy?
Among the possibilities are jobs weatherizing homes, manufacturing and installing smart energy meters, building new transmission lines and upgrading mass-transit systems.
But not everyone is convinced, especially when it comes to the White House-backed American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The bill, which the House passed in June but awaits Senate approval, calls for, among other things, capping emissions and increasing energy efficiency in buildings, home appliances and electricity generation.
But the Heritage Foundation, a conservative public-policy think tank in Washington, D.C., said the proposed legislation, also known as the Waxman-Markey Bill, would be a jobs killer.
"Contrary to claims of an economic boost from green investment and green jobs creation and postage stamp costs, the Waxman-Markey energy bill does the complete opposite by increasing energy prices," claims a recent foundation report.
"Waxman-Markey would have severe consequences, including skyrocketing energy costs, millions of jobs lost, and falling household income and economic activity, all for negligible changes in global temperature."
David Kreutzer, a senior policy analyst for energy economics and climate change at the Heritage Foundation, told ABC News, "Whatever jobs he [President Barack Obama] creates will come at the cost of even more jobs."
But Kreutzer admitted that he had not analyzed how many jobs could be created in the new-energy sector to offset any job losses resulting from the bill.
The Center for American Progress report calls for the proposed energy bill to support the creation of new jobs to offset losses in other energy sectors, such as the coal industry, through financing, job training and easier access to energy-retrofit programs.
The president has pledged to invest $150 billion in 10 years in energy research and development to move toward a clean-energy future, as well as create millions of jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East.
Every Little 'Green' Job Helps
Supporters point to existing examples as evidence of the potential.
A Chicago developer of renewable-energy building materials, Serious Materials, took over a collapsed factory last Christmas. The workers had been left without severance pay, so Serious Materials bought it and retooled it. Now, they're making high-efficiency windows.
"That might not seem like a lot, but if everyone had those windows, it would be like saving all the emissions that all renewable energy plants do," company chairman Marc Porat said at a round-table discussion during the clean energy summit.
"This [Obama] administration understands the connection between jobs, energy and climate change."
In Portland, Ore., a Clean Energy Works Program will gear up next year, generating hundreds of jobs and retrofitting 10,000 homes annually.
A weatherization program in Chicago targeting low-income households added 60 new jobs.
The Western Area Power Authority and the Bonneville Power Authority are training new linesmen to build more transmission lines in Arizona and Washington State to bring solar plants and wind farms online.
The Electric Transportation Engineering Corp., or ETEC, received $99.8 million from the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009 to help undertake the largest deployment of electric-charging stations in the United States to date. The funds will help to build new charging stations to power electric cars in Arizona, California, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington. ETEC plans to employ 750 people across the country within the next 18 months.
Duke Energy Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., is gearing up to install 700,000 smart meters in Ohio, and is seeking to install 500,000 of them in Indiana. The programs will provide real-time, power-price information to consumers and utilities while creating administrative and installation jobs in the meantime.
And although some companies are outsourcing jobs, Johnson Controls Inc., of Milwaukee, for instance, will use a $299.2 million federal grant to produce nickel-cobalt, metal-battery packs for electric cars in Holland, Mich.
Many National Clean Energy Summit attendees said they hope to rebrand the Waxman-Markey legislation as less of an energy bill and more of a jobs bill in order to ensure its passage.
"We need to not only change the lights and the windows, we need to change the laws," former Vice President Al Gore told attendees.
Green Jobs Czar Steps Down
Van Jones, one of the attendees at the energy summit, who was the Obama administration's "green jobs czar" stepped down Sunday after being the subject of attack from conservatives on past actions and comments surrounding his signature of a 2004 petition calling for an independent investigation of whether the government played any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide," Jones said in a statement released Sunday regarding his resignation.
Few stepped up to defend Jones, and many progressives are angry that the Obama administration has buckled to conservative criticism, such as crticism from Fox's Glen Beck who accused Jones of Marxist affiliations and liberal activism.
Progressives worry that they have lost the number one green jobs advocate in the White House. Others say Jones' resignation is a symbol of how heated the debate will get as The American Clean Energy and Security Act is taken up in the Senate.