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Retrained for green jobs, but still waiting on work
Although 29 states have enacted laws setting benchmarks for the amount of energy utilities must generate from renewable sources such as wind and solar, the standards vary greatly. And with a new congressional majority poised to take office - including many members elected pledging to reduce Washington's role in the economy - it remains an open question whether new federal regulations that would support expansion of the industry would be enacted anytime soon.
"Green energy investment has been a central talking point of the Obama administration's job growth strategy," said Samuel Sherraden, a policy analyst at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization. "It was a little bit too ambitious given the size and depth of the recession and the small size of the renewable energy industry."
Sherraden said it was unwise for the administration to invest so heavily in green energy, at least if short-term job creation was the goal. He said green energy comes with "political and market uncertainty" that has overwhelmed its job creation potential.
Despite that, Obama has described the surge of clean energy spending as crucial both to the nation's economic and environmental future.
"Our future as a nation depends on making sure that the jobs and industries of the 21st century take root here in America," Obama said in October. "And there is perhaps no industry with more potential to create jobs now - and growth in the coming years - than clean energy."
But other administration officials acknowledge that it is likely to be years before the spending on green energy produces large numbers of jobs. And they add that only part of the money earmarked for green energy has been spent. They also agree that the government will have to help create demand to support green energy.
Still, they are optimistic for the long term, even if the spending will not significantly ease the nation's unemployment crisis in the short run.
The money going into building car battery plants, for example, could allow the nation to capture as much as 40 percent of the global demand in that growing business in five to seven years, said Carol M. Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.
"This stuff is coming on line," Browner said. "We all want it to come on line much more quickly."
Here in Ocala, the federal emphasis on green energy was eagerly embraced by local officials grasping for ways to blunt the area's skyrocketing jobless rate, which now stands at 14 percent.
The housing crisis had decimated the local economy, wiping out thousands of jobs that will probably never return. There were huge losses in construction jobs. Several plants that made building supplies and home furnishings have gone out of business. And last year, Taylor Bean and Whitaker, a mortgage company that employed more than 1,000 people, suddenly closed.
Now with real estate development not predicted to resume its former breakneck pace anytime in the foreseeable future, the local economy is left without an obvious source of new jobs.