Renewable energy advocates often claim renewable energy creates more jobs than conventional energy, but such claims are based on deception and false comparisons. In reality, renewable energy isn’t even in the same universe of job creation as conventional energy.
A good example of renewable energy jobs deception is presented by Allan Hoffman, a former bureaucrat in the U.S. Department of Energy, in an article titled, “Jobs? Investing in renewables beats fossil fuels.” The article was recently published in the Energy Post, and linked via the Real Clear Energy website.
Hoffman summarizes his article by writing, “If a primary national goal is to create jobs in the energy sector, investing in renewable energy is considerably more effective than investing in fossil fuels.” Supporting his argument, Hoffman writes, “Solar Foundation data indicated that in 2016 the U.S. solar industry (8,600 companies) employed 260,000 workers.”
NEW YORK - MAY 09: Atmosphere during Michael Kors & Level Solar Team Up With Bette Midler's New York Restoration Project To Develop NYC's First Solar-Powered Community Garden on May 9, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for New York Restoration Project)
Comparing solar industry jobs to conventional energy jobs, Hoffman writes, “How do these numbers compare with numbers in the fossil fuel industries? In 2015 workers employed directly in oil and natural gas extraction numbered about 187,000.”
Hoffman then takes his comparison into the political realm, writing, “The U.S. Congress must recognize this and put policies in place that accelerate their [wind and solar energy] growth.”
At first glance, Hoffman’s claims appear to be a powerful argument in favor of preferential government policies for wind and solar power. Hoffman is not alone making these claims. In appearances at legislative hearings throughout the 50 states, I often encounter renewable energy advocates making the same jobs-based appeal to government policymakers. But are the claims true? The answer is no.
Did you notice anything different about Hoffman’s verbiage when comparing solar industry jobs to conventional energy jobs?  Hoffman doesn’t put any qualifiers on “solar industry” jobs, while he limits conventional energy jobs to “workers employed directly in oil and natural gas extraction.” Let’s look at the specifics of how this language impacts the number of reported jobs in each industry.

For solar jobs, Hoffman references data reported by the solar power industry. I looked up and found the Solar Foundation paper Hoffman references. What Hoffman defines as “workers” who are “employed” by the U.S. solar industry are actually defined by the Solar Foundation as jobs which the solar industry “supports.” The Solar Foundation liberally defines jobs “supported” by the solar power industry as to include every component on the solar industry chain, plus additional jobs like lawyers, lobbyists, public relations professionals, government employees overseeing the solar power industry, permitting officers, plumbers, electricians, salesmen, land acquisition specialists, and financiers.
For natural gas jobs, by comparison, Hoffman limits his definition to “workers employed directly in oil and natural gas extraction.” Hoffman does not include lawyers, lobbyists, public relations professionals, government oversight employees, permitting officers, plumbers, electricians, salesmen, land acquisition specialists, and financiers, as he does for the solar power industry. Even more importantly, he does not include construction workers who build natural gas power plants, workers who operate natural gas power plants, workers who survey and find natural gas deposits, workers who build equipment for natural gas power plants, etc.
Hoffman and other renewable energy advocates create the broadest possible definition of workers “supported” by the solar power industry, falsely claim that the solar power industry “employed” all these workers, and then compare that to the narrowest possible definition of just a single segment of workers “directly” employed in the “extraction” component of the much larger natural gas industry. This would be akin to McDonald’s claiming its Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese Supersized Meal is a healthier and lower-calorie dietary option than a turkey sandwich – dry and without cheese – on multigrain bread because the entire turkey-on-multigrain sandwich entails more calories than the lettuce and pickles in the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese Supersized Meal. The comparison is inaccurate and misleading. But unlike the McDonald’s-to-turkey-sandwich comparison, the deceitful nature of the renewable power jobs claims is not clearly evident at a quick glance. Many people, including public policy officials, get duped by the renewable energy advocates’ false jobs claims.
Public policy officials, do not be duped. The next time somebody claims wind and solar power create more jobs than natural gas and other conventional energy sources, ask them for specific definitions and parameters of the job numbers cited. If they falsely claim the definitions and parameters are similar, call them on it. If they truthfully answer that the definitions and parameters do not match up, ask them why they are presenting deliberately misleading data.