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Green energy jobs fall into the red

Shane Thielges | Shale Plays Media

The number of jobs created by clean energy projects has fallen sharply compared to a year ago, thanks to the expiration of a series of tax breaks for clean energy companies.

5,600 new energy jobs were created in the first three months of 2014, compared to 12,000 in the first quarter of 2013, according to a report issued Thursday by the business group Environmental Entrepreneurs, or ‘E2.’ The organization’s website says it is a “national community of business leaders who promote sound environmental policy that builds economic prosperity.”

Job creation fell so sharply that Idaho made the list of top 10 job creating states because of one new geothermal plant project, despite never having ranked before.

The reason for the decline, E2 says, is the expiration of the Congressional Production Tax Credit, or PTC, for wind, geothermal and certain hydroelectric developers. The credit offered 2.3 cents for every kilowatt-hour of electricity produced, and was enacted to allow renewable energy companies to compete with fossil fuel developers that enjoyed permanent tax breaks.

Related: Turning toward the deadline: Minnesota Power set to reach renewable-energy mandate 11 years early

Congress delayed a decision on renewing the credit until late in the year, advocates say, making clean energy an unattractive target for investors. The American Wind Energy Association, a nonprofit trade association, claimed that 30,000 jobs were ultimately lost due to these delays.

Perhaps because of such falling investments, they say, Congress ultimately decided to let the credit expire on January 1st of this year.

Though Congress has shifted renewable energy job creation to the back burner, President Obama recently announced a series of executive actions intended to strengthen and promote the industry. In partnership with the EPA, he announced new emission standards for power plants that will likely force many, especially those fueled by coal, to close. In the energy vacuum likely to ensue, renewable energy could find more willing investors and opportunities.

Obama also announced he would implement a series of projects to promote solar energy, including financial incentives for companies who would create and use solar energy technology. The solar market saw the most jobs created this year at about 1600, but existing tax breaks are set to expire in 2016, leading to speculation that it, too, could blow away like dust in the wind.

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