Framing the Dialogue

Tilting At Windmills

Blowback on windmills was the headline that caught my eye in the “letters” section of Pittsburgh’s Tribune Review.  The letter was from Sarah Howell, the vice president, public affairs, for the American Wind Energy Association.  Ms. Howell’s response to the original article titled The Windmill Sham was understandable given her position advocating windmills.

The original editorial piece was critical of the number of jobs created by government subsidies of the alternative energy industry.  The author made the mistake of siting actual data from the Spanish government showing that the actual cost of each new job was around $333,333.00.  Of course the response from the wind folks touted how many jobs were created because of government support/subsidy of the industry. 

This is the classic example of why I wanted to have Framing The Dialogue.  Even though the conservative editorial provided good data to support the obvious waste of tax dollars to create a minimum number of jobs the wind folks were able to provide just as good data showing how many jobs were created.  The conservative framed the dialogue in terms that the liberal could provide blowback and perhaps win the dialogue.

The real argument is whether government should be subsidizing one industry over another and what is the return on the investment for spending these tax dollars.  Return on investment is the key.  There are jobs created with our tax dollars, but is the return worth it.  At $333,333.00 per job it does not seem like a good return.  Actually it is not a good return. 

Forget about the “jobs” issue for a while.  Based on my experience working for government and actually having the opportunity to review some of the grant proposals for these projects the important issue not raised is the actual ROI.  When business invests money in a capital project they expect either a savings or increased profit to pay off the initial investment.  A good return on investment is to have the pay for itself in two to four years. 

Governments don’t seem to look at this like a business.  Return on investment was not a determining factor in rewarding funds for energy projects.  I remember one where the ROI (if the organization actually had to pay rather than using our tax dollars) was over one hundred years.  No company would ever make such an investment.  Nor should any government.

Plopping tax dollars into creating jobs is not a good investment and that is the dialogue that we should be having.

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