News & Politics

AEI: One Coal Worker Produces Same Energy as 79 Solar Workers

04/28/2017 Ozyornaya solar photo electric power station in Yavoriv district, Lviv Region. Stringer/Sputnik via AP

The American Enterprise Institute recently took issue with a claim, posted in the New York Times, that more Americans are employed by the “green energy” industry than by coal or natural gas.

As AEI points out, the reason more people work in solar than coal and natural gas is because solar is far more labor-intensive and inefficient:

In an April 25 New York Times article (“Today’s Energy Jobs Are in Solar, Not Coal“) reporter Nadja Popovich wrote that “Last year, the solar industry employed many more Americans [373,807] than coal [160,119], while wind power topped 100,000 jobs.” Those energy employment figures are based on a Department of Energy report (“U.S. Energy and Employment Report“) released earlier this year that provides the most complete analysis available of employment in the energy economy.

But simply reporting rather enthusiastically (see the NYT headline again) that the solar industry employs lots of Americans, more than twice as many as the number of coal miners and utility workers at electric power plants using coal, is only telling a small part of the story. Here are some important energy facts that help provide a more complete picture about how much energy is being produced in different sectors, how many workers it takes to produce a given amount of electric power, and which sectors receive the most generous taxpayer handouts.

To start, despite a huge workforce of almost 400,000 solar workers (about 20 percent of electric power payrolls in 2016), that sector produced an insignificant share, less than 1 percent, of the electric power generated in the United States last year (EIA data here).

And that’s a lot of solar workers: about the same as the combined number of employees working at Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Pfizer, Ford Motor Company and Procter & Gamble.

AEI found that it takes 79 solar workers to equal the power output of one coal worker or two natural gas workers.

In other words, wasteful, inefficient busywork. Not real jobs.

Oddly, Sally Kohn thinks this is a good thing:

Yes, the right does believe in creating good jobs. However, solar jobs are not jobs. Take the taxpayer-funded subsidies away, and what happens?

There is no solar power “industry.” They can’t make payroll. They can’t find customers willing to buy their product.

Luckily, that money would be freed up for other things, like returning it to the taxpayer to make intelligent, productive choices with it. Like creating actual jobs.