A strange article appeared in the Vancouver Sun recently. I say strange because the article was based on a paper issued by the progressive think-tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, but at first glance, it appeared to be arguing that claims that green energy can create good jobs are overblown. The headline read “Wanted: Good Green Jobs” and then below it said “Wind and solar energy projects don't create a lot of jobs and the ones they do create don't pay all that well.” Was the CCPA echoing the sentiments of the Margaret Wente’s of the world, saying that while we may want green jobs, in truth they don’t exist?
The answer is, emphatically, NO.
What they were really saying is that green energy can produce a lot of high quality jobs but, at present, Canadian energy development isn’t headed in that direction. The report finds that we’re not doing enough to deal with climate change, or enough to ensure that the transition away from our carbon-intensive economy to a green economy is a “just transition” that doesn’t leave workers behind. And, although some provinces are moving to more renewable energy, in most cases those policies will not create a lot of jobs because no consideration has been given to where the components of green energy projects are sourced from.
The report finds that, for all the green energy in production across Canada, we haven’t slowed our exploitation of the tar sands and other non-conventional fossil-fuels, and good environmental outcomes are far from assured. And without some domestic content requirements, such as those in Ontario’s Green Energy Act, we aren’t likely to see much in the way of new manufacturing jobs, which is where most of the permanent jobs related to green energy can be found.
The authors point out that European countries such as Denmark and Germany have very intentionally linked their green energy deployment to the development of a green manufacturing industry. And these countries have met with a great deal of success. Denmark is a world leader in wind turbine production. Danish wind turbine manufacturer, Vestas, holds a 12 per cent share of the global market. And 370,000 people are employed in Germany’s renewable energy sector. In the next decade, green manufacturing is expected to overtake the Germany’s automotive industry.
The report also notes that Ontario has linked their green energy programs to local manufacturing by requiring that up to 60 percent of any renewable energy project is sourced domestically. Thanks to these domestic content requirements, some 40 companies have announced plans to open manufacturing facilities or expand their operations in the province.
The authors argue that we need to overhaul our energy policy and, in consultation with labour activists and environmentalists, ensure that we create a situation that benefits our environment and our economy, because this is not a given.
Their point is not that the win-win isn’t there. It’s that we aren’t on course to realize it. At least, not at present.