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.

 

First podcast – Subsidies, smokes, and solar

Welcome to the Econ Minute. It’s more than a minute, and it’s about more than just economics.

This is our first podcast. This pilot podcast begins with a visit to a mixed up world where the homeless are arrested for stealing less than a penny’s worth of electricity while high end electric vehicle drivers get priority parking and the privilege of plugging in for free.

Next, we take a trip in the wacky world of healthcare where expanded Medicaid coverage may lead to increased smoking by pregnant mothers-to-be.

We end with the silly world of solar energy where you might find some of the lowest of low wage workers. And these workers really are trapped in their jobs.

For more information or to hire an economist to speak at your next event or provide expert testimony, please visit www.econinternational.com.

The crazy mixed up world of “free” electricity where the homeless get arrested and Tesla owners get subsidies

In Portland, OR, Street Roots reports that a homeless former social worker with muscular dystrophy was hit with a misdemeanor theft charge for charging her phone from a plug on a planter-base on a sidewalk. She then spent a day in jail when she missed her arraignment.

The electricity she used to charge her phone was worth a fraction of a cent. Worried that a pleading guilty would put a black mark on her record that would interfere with her ability to get social housing, she pled innocent. After two court dates with two different public defenders, the DA finally dropped the charge.

Late last year, the Oregonian reported that the Portland mass transit agency, TriMet, cut off free electricity to battery-depleted commuters who discovered not-so-hidden power outlets tucked under its light rail schedule/map kiosks.

Now, the Portland Business Journal reports that the Oregon Legislature is considering House Bill 2092, which would award rebates to Oregonians who buy Nissan Leafs, Chevy Volts, Volkswagen e-Golfs and other all-electric vehicles now on the market, including the high-end Tesla Model S.

The legislation would provide a $3,000 rebate to buyers of electric cars and $1,500 to buyers of plug-in electric vehicles.

Already, in Portland, electric vehicles have priority parking and get to plug in to free electricity for the time that they are parked.

At the same time, on the other side of the country, the state of Georgia is pulling its electric vehicle subsidies. On top of that, Vice News reports that the state is about to get rid of its $5,000 tax credit and, on top of that, add a $200 a year electric vehicle tax to recoup the state’s drop in gasoline tax revenues.

Who would have thought that a few electrons would cause so many headaches?