Massive federal subsidies for wind and solar energy are prompting conservative state governments to reconsider their opinions on low-carbon generation capacity or, indeed, consider having some.
With several hundred billion available in the form of subsidies for solar and wind farms, EV manufacturing, and batteries, among others, the Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress last year has prompted a race among states for a piece of the subsidy pie.
It’s not just the money, either. West Virginia recently approved a titanium manufacturing project led by Berkshire Hathaway that will be powered by a solar+battery installation. It is one of three low-carbon energy projects the state has approved over the past year, the Wall Street Journal reported this week, worth $400 million in total.
This is a major breakthrough for a state so heavily dependent on coal it generates 90% of its electricity from it. The heart of coal country also, unsurprisingly, has a strong pro-coal lobby influencing energy decisions on the state government level. What did the trick, it appears, was the promise of new job creation.
The Berkshire factory, for instance, will employ some 200 people in its titanium production plant and another hundred in a facility for the production of utility-scale battery storage. That facility is being developed by a Berkshire partner in the West Virginia project, Michigan-based Our Next Energy.
Jobs are changing minds in conservative states, which also just so happen to have plenty of low-carbon resources, meaning a lot of sun and a lot of wind. Indeed, early this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that most of the IRA money for low-carbon energy was going into red states. Driven by the promise of generous subsidies, companies have also made pledges worth tens of billions for these states.
As of January, the report said, out of 30 low-carbon and other transition-related projects that had a location included in the description, 27 were in red states. Together, these 27 projects were worth over $35 billion.
Of course, investment pledges are not actual investments, and yet the abundant federal government support will likely motivate a lot of companies to really spend the promised sums. As for job creation, there seems to be a widespread misconception that everyone involved in every wind or solar project gets a job for life. This is not the case.
The number of people directly involved on a permanent basis in transition activities, that is, wind and solar power, battery and EV production, and green hydrogen, tends to be smaller than politicians like to boast. Scotland is a case in point: its government promised a few years ago offshore wind would create as many as 28,000 new jobs. The number of full-time jobs that industry actually created, as of 2021, was 3,100.
This has sparked an effort to define what a green job actually means. Perhaps this effort will spread to the United States as well as job creation as approving low-carbon generation and other transition-related projects gains popularity in the states with the most abundant wind, solar, and land resources.
While it becomes clear which of the prospective transition investors was indeed serious about it, the race between states will continue—there is still a lot of money to be distributed—and it will cost them money.
The FT wrote about that in May, saying states were competing to offer the best incentives to prospective transition investors looking for a place to set up shop and benefit from the IRA subsidy package. Some have questioned the outcome of such an approach to attracting investment, noting there is no certainty such incentives are necessary at all and what they would realistically achieve in terms of returns.
One executive at an accountability research company described the situation graphically: “The states are free to overspend and rip each other’s guts out and compete, race to the bottom, and waste gazillions of dollars,” Greg LeRoy from Good Jobs First told the FT.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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