Solar Jobs, 1978

In March 1978, a Congressional Subcommittee chaired by Senator Edward M. Kennedy held hearings on the subject: "Creating Jobs Through Energy Policy."

Some of the most provocative testimony came from William Winpisinger, the President of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers:

"We have a tremendous opportunity to dovetail the development of the new energy sources such as solar, cogeneration, biomass, small hydro, and wind with a national manpower policy and full employment program."

"We must be wary, however. The giant energy companies, already vertically and horizontally integrated, are casting covetous eyes upon the alternatives, particularly solar, and I guess staking out a claim on buying the sun. I don’t think we can permit that to happen. Of all sources, solar power must be the people’s power."

"It remains for public spirited and progressive citizens to remind the nation’s policy makers and the public, that the sun and solar energy belong to the people, not the energy companies; that the waters of the ocean and rivers belong to the people, not the monopolies; that the children of the ghettos have as much claim to ownership of pubic lands, oil shale and offshore oil deposits, as do a few private investors."

The next month, in April 1978, Winpisinger led the founding conference of the Citizen-Labor Energy Coalition (CLEC), with Heather Booth.  CLEC promoted energy-efficiency and solar jobs, based on the larger belief that "the energy crisis ... pitted the well-being of workers and consumers against corporate power and profits" (Andrew Battista, "Labor and Liberalism: The Citizen Labor Energy Coalition," Labor History, 1999).  CLEC gained a bit of political power in the early 1980s.  For a critique, see the 1984 Heritage Foundation report: "CLEC: Hidden Agenda, Hidden Danger" (pdf).  CLEC also gets mentioned in pieces such as "Obama’s Radical Past." 

Winpisinger was known as "Wimpy."  When he died in 1997 the New York Times said he called himself a "seat-of-the-pants socialist."


Also in 1978, a group called the Mid-Peninsula Conversion Project in Mountain View, California, issued a report called "Creating Solar Jobs" (pdf).  It estimated 66,300 direct solar jobs in the United States by 1985.  This study also estimated the costs for a statewide program to build and retrofit passive solar houses in California in the 1980s, and the construction jobs which would be created.  "We can assume conservatively that 10% to 20% of the single-family homes and 5% to 10% of the multi-family homes could be retrofitted by 1985 with a south-facing greenhouse or solar wall."  The nascent PV industry was also analyzed.