The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
A Million Empty Promises Green Dream Turns to Nightmare for German Workers

Let’s call a spade a spade: Germany’s Energiewende is an unmitigated policy disaster. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reported this morning that one in three workers in Germany’s solar industry lost their job last year. By November, there were a mere 4,800 employees left in the sector, the first time in four years that number has fallen below the 5,000-mark. That’s less than half 2012′s levels, when there were still 10,200 solar jobs. These revelations come hard on the heels of news that the $30 billion German taxpayers shuffled into green subsidies last year didn’t actually make the country any cleaner, and that more brown coal was burned there in 2013 than in any year since 1990.

This can hardly be what Germany’s Green Party had in mind when it spoke of a “green job miracle” ahead of last year’s federal elections, promising upwards of a million green jobs by 2025. The European Commission has already had to recalibrate renewables targets in the face of economic realities, but this latest report by the FAZ shows just how high a price is already being imposed on working families by pie-in-the-sky green policies.

Not everyone in Germany is quite so starry-eyed, of course. As the Financial Times reports today, Germany’s Finance Minister has already acknowledged that Berlin “may have gone too far in its attempts to protect the environment”:

Wolfgang Schäuble took issue with claims that the “green economy” will be a major driver of employment, saying Berlin’s decision two years ago to shutter its nuclear power plants and emphasise renewables needed to be re-examined.

“We did it too good and now we have to correct because otherwise we have an increasing of energy costs which will harm jobs in Germany in a serious way in the medium term,” Mr Schäuble said at a forum in Brussels, where he was attending a regular meeting of EU finance ministers. “Therefore, we have to rebalance.”

Even Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s new Minister of Economics and Energy, who made impassioned pleas for binding renewables targets during last year’s election cycle, said recently that Germany has “reached the limit of what we can ask of our economy” when it comes to energy prices.

But the thousands of jobs that have been lost by artificially propping up an uncompetitive industry for too long are not the only cost. One German economist calculated that every one of these jobs had been underwritten by €175,000 taxpayer annually (and this is also the cost of the remaining jobs). Moreover, Germany has levied stiff tariffs and other protectionist measures against Chinese solar panel producers, making solar hardware pricier for German consumers, but even these couldn’t save companies like Conergy, Solon, and Q-cells from insolvency.

Though comparable figures for other sectors in the green industry were not released by FAZ, things can hardly be much better elsewhere. IG Metall, one of Germany’s most influential unions, for instance, is already sounding the alarm bells: It lost 2,000 jobs in windmill manufacturing last year alone, with another 1,000 acutely threatened, as construction of offshore wind farms grinds to a halt. Many windmill manufacturing firms have no contracts extending past the middle of the year, and some even claim their last contracts are due to run out in April, raising the prospect of further layoffs.

Renewable energy was supposed to usher in a new era of job creation in Germany, but just the opposite is now taking place.

Published on January 28, 2014 11:46 am
  • Gene

    When you fight your political battles against math, math WILL win, sooner or later.

    • TommyTwo

      The Cold Equations. I remember being stunned when I learned of the highly charged negative reaction to this story. It seems some people simply refuse to acknowledge reality. (Cf “Reality-based community.”)

      • f1b0nacc1

        That has been one of my favorite stories ever since I first read it as a child in the late 60s.
        When I was teaching (in this case a grad-level seminar), I assigned this to my students on a regular basis. When asked why (science fiction seemed a bit out of place for this unrelated field), I pointed out that this was a useful explanation of how what we desperately want to happen is a very different thing from what the universe is going to do….

        • TommyTwo

          Kudos. A related favorite of mine is “The Jet that Crashed Before Take-off,” a short non-fiction piece by Beirne Lay Jr.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    And they shot themselves with this economic bullet based on the greatest hoax in history “Global Warming”.

  • Boritz

    How many people, German and American, believe that like our own stimulus not enough resources were allocated to make this the big success it could have been.

  • qet

    I read where someone likened the doomed doves released by the Pope to “sausages with wings.” I think this will become one of my go-to metaphors, or similes. The German people who supported and voted for these Green policies, and even more so the workers who lost their jobs, were just sausages with wings. The Americans currently coping with Obamacare, like the guy mentioned in the Via Meadia post up-blog? Sausages with wings. &c.