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I had a green job

Mitt Romney has recently taken fire not only from the Obama campaign but even from some left-leaning Republicans, for his rightful criticism of Obama’s destructive “green jobs” programs.  Not only is Mr. Romney right to criticize these programs -- and his position supported by many economic studies -- but in fact the situation is even worse than anything suggested by these criticisms. Green jobs are destroying the abilities and spirits of a whole generation of engineers. I should know. I was one of those engineers.

In 2008 I completed my Masters in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford and took a “Green Job” with a solar company. Excitingly, it seemed to match the green rhetoric--to have potential to create the incredible value of cleaner, cheaper energy.

Unfortunately, the more I learned about my job and industry, the more I realized they were fundamentally flawed.

Management said we would be competitive with oil and gas once we manufactured panels for $1.00/watt. But as a mechanical engineer, I learned most of solar’s cost is not panels themselves but “balance of system” (BOS) components like DC to AC converters, wiring, and structural mounting, adding about $3.00/watt for a best-case total of $4.00/watt. Coal and hydroelectric systems cost as low as $2.10/watt and $1.00/watt, respectively. I found no evidence that solar’s BOS costs would decrease meaningfully.

Nor did anyone have a solution to the problem that has plagued solar and wind energy since their inception: intermittency. Solar and wind energy come intermittently, with no means to store it for later use that wouldn’t add considerably to their already-high cost. Thus, the idea of a large scale solar and wind economy is farcical.

If the industry was fundamentally unproductive, so were my colleagues and I. We were wasting a tragic amount of time, talent--and other people's money--making a far inferior form of power when we could have been creating real advances in other, legitimate kinds of energy.

Just as disturbing was what these “jobs” did to people’s spirits. Every high-ranking person in solar or wind must eventually figure out, as I did, that he cannot compete in the market, that his competitive advantages are government subsidies and forced limitations on competitors.

Whatever technical advances we made didn’t solve the intractable problems, so our real victories came in forms such as the Cap and Trade Bill. I learned of the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives while driving home from a day spent on an interesting technical project. I knew my work was trivial in comparison. Our true means of revenue-generation was forcibly limiting carbon emissions, to force consumers into using energy sources like ours.

I had looked forward to beating the competition, but with superior products--and working even harder if we should lose, or if that failed, joining the competition in creating a more energy-rich world. When the goal is not out-producing but crippling of the competition, the goodwill of "May the best man win" becomes "What kills them can only make me stronger."

I wish I could say people work in Green energy because they sincerely believe in catastrophic global warming. But most also reject nuclear power, the only scalable form of CO2-free energy, hating it as a competitor while celebrating Fukushima for creating anti-nuclear sentiment. “Nuclear is dead!” proclaimed my boss at a staff meeting just days after the disaster. “This will be good for us!” he continued, in the wake of 20,000 deaths, not one caused by nuclear radiation.

He was right--we needed disasters to compete.

I remember researching catastrophic global warming claims extensively, then sharing evidence against such a threat with the director of engineering, a very intelligent man. I expected either a scientific counter-argument or excitement at the prospect that we do not face an unprecedented climate disaster and the unprecedented economic disaster of a carbon cap. Instead, he responded that our company would be better off if catastrophic global warming were imminent. He wanted it to be true, because it would help us. Our company could not survive on merit, so our interests were aligned with destruction.

This is the kind of polluted cultural environment some of our nation’s most talented engineers are developing in--because the government is creating every incentive to bring it about.

My relief came with financial hardship for my company and the following round of layoffs, as I was happily let go. I finally had time to find a real job, and now have a wonderful, rewarding one in a legitimate industry with a culture of productivity and achievement. It is a world of difference.

Real wealth and jobs are not produced by means of subsidies extracted by force from helpless victims by the Obama administration, but by rational free people acting under their own initiative.  The sooner the government stops forcing green jobs on us, the sooner the rest of America’s wasted green workforce can join me in getting real jobs.

Deborah Sloan is a mechanical engineer and a researcher at the Center for Industrial Progress. Learn more about industrial progress on Facebook.

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