Has a $38.6 billion loan-guarantee program run by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) really produced just “a few thousand” jobs? That’s what the Washington Post asserts in the lead paragraph of a front-page story today, but the DOE – with the loan program under siege after the Solyndra bankruptcy – says the article is “incomplete and inaccurate.”
Here’s one key issue in the dispute: The Post insists on comparing the number of “new, permanent jobs” – which it puts at 3,545 in the second paragraph of the story – with the Obama administration’s claim that the loan-guarantee program would “create or save 65,000 jobs.” The DOE pounced on this apples-to-oranges comparison, pointing to a graphic that accompanies the Post story that shows the program creating or saving roughly 44,000 jobs.
And the DOE adds: “Many of the projects … funded are just getting going, and many of the loans won’t even go out the door until the next few weeks. Others have not ramped fully up to scale. But we are on pace to achieve more than 60,000 direct jobs – and many more in the supply chain.”
That graphic in question also shows that the 3,545 “permanent/new” jobs have come in contrast to “8,050 promised.” Given that the program is only about halfway along in using all of its financing capability, readers who go beyond the opening paragraph of the story might judge the results to be pretty close to on pace with the administration’s forecast.
But even while it uses the 44,000 figure in its graphic, the Post is deeply skeptical of the created/saved number. It pooh-poohs the administration’s claim that one of the biggest chunks of the loan-guarantee money – $5.9 billion to Ford – saved the 33,000 jobs the DOE claims it did. “Several economists said they doubt the loan program saved 33,000 jobs at Ford,” the Post reports, going on to cite a Brookings Institution fellow who says “the agency appears to be counting every employee working in upgraded plants, when the more relevant question is how many workers would have been laid off without the loans.”
Answering that charge, the DOE repeats a Ford representative’s quote that appears in the Post story, in which she credits the loan guarantee with “helping retain the 33,000 jobs by ensuring our employees can build the fuel-efficient cars people want to drive.”
The DOE also hits the Post for minimizing the importance of more than 7,300 construction jobs created in building solar and wind plants back by loan guarantees, and in discounting an unspecified number of supply-chain jobs the projects have created. The DOE gives the example of the Kahuku wind-power plant in Hawaii. “It employed 200 workers during construction,” the DOE says. “Those wind turbines were built in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The project also features a state of the art energy storage system supplied by a company in Texas. The supply chain reached 104 U.S. businesses in 21 states. But by the Washington Post’s count, none of those jobs – not even the 200 direct construction jobs – should count.”
As for the Solyndra bankruptcy, the DOE is also doing damage control there. Yesterday, Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman, in a piece that appeared in USA Today, said the company “underwent years of rigorous internal and external review before being approved” and before a “perfect storm of deteriorating market conditions” led to its demise. Poneman said loans to the U.S. solar industry were vital when seen in a global context. “Last year,” he wrote, “the China Development Bank offered more than $30 billion in financing to Chinese solar manufacturers, about 20 times more than U.S.-backed loans to solar manufacturers.
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