Are solar energy jobs a path to prosperity or poverty? Lessons from a solar scandal.

Last week, President Obama announced a new initiative to train military veterans for careers in the solar industry.

The new Solar Ready Vets Program, would help military veterans learn new skills needed to work in the solar industry after they leave the armed forces.

The solar industry, Mr. Obama said, was a natural growth industry that could help returning soldiers transition back into civilian life.

“The solar industry is actually adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy,” he said. “They’re good paying jobs that are helping folks enter into the middle class.”

Meanwhile in Oregon …

According to an Oregonian investigation, SolarWorld, a “solid name” in green energy, but a struggling business nonetheless pays it’s factory workers $11 an hour. That’s a little less than what retail pays, but a little more than what restaurant cooks get paid.

Even a these relatively low wages, the state’s solar project was a financial loser.

In a twist that sounds like the plot of a bad comedy—or a modern version of Shawshank Redemption—Oregon turned to … drumroll … prison labor.

Prison labor paying 93 cents an hour.

That’s right. Oregon’s solar industry cannot afford to pay workers what they’d make working retail.

In an even more bizarre twist, the Oregon legislature is pushing a $15 an hour minimum wage for the state. Proponents of the huge boost have argued that businesses can absorb the costs or pass them on to customers. Oregon’s experiment with solar panel prisoners clearly shows that fallacy with that line of argument.