Friday, September 18, 2009

Taking The US For A Ride With Spain's Renewable Energy

Some time ago, when the Obama administration in the US expressed interest in the extent to which Spain was developing renewable energy sources, the opposition to such developments siezed on a report that had been published by a leading member of the Instituto Juan de Mariana. The report by Gabriel Calzada claimed that the investment in clean energy in Spain was destroying many more jobs than it created. This was of course good news for the Republicans, the fossil fuels industry and right wing media outlets such as Fox News - so the Calzada report got far more than its Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Even more absurdly, Calzada was happy in his interviews to back the idea that Spain's current unemployment problems were a result of this investment in clean energy.

However, now there is a reply to Calzada's claims and it demonstrates fairly neatly the line that divides genuine academic research from industry funded propaganda. The response from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory highlights multiple defects in the original report, both in the methodology used and in the conclusions. Calzada's case rests fundamentally on the claim that if all the money spent on subsidising clean energy had been spent on private sector job creation then the result for employment would have been much better. Of course there is no reason at all to assume that this is what would have happened.

The original report doesn't even take on board the simple truth that not every job costs the same, as if training a doctor is equivalent to putting someone to work in Burger King. No mention at all was made of the benefits from exporting the technology and expertise, already significantly more than the subsidy received, and other incidental factors such as a reduced dependence on imported energy also fail to feature in Calzada's analysis. The methodology is, of course, the opposite to that used in scientific research. First you define the conclusions that you want to arrive at and then you set about carefully selecting and manipulating your evidence to try and fit those conclusions.

The Insitituto Juan de Mariana is one of the homes of Spain's busy little group of neoconservatives. Having arrived so late for the original game it seems that they are now determined to "out-neocon" everyone else in a bid to make up for lost time. Renewable energy is precisely one of those areas where Spain can become a leader and develop much needed alternatives to construction and tourism. As Spanish companies try to sell their expertise in renewables overseas it can't be very comforting for them to know that the these people are out there doing their very best to undermine those efforts.

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