Staffers preview Obama’s Fremont speech

White House staffers held a teleconference with reporters today to preview what President Barack Obama will say about jobs and the economy at a Fremont solar-panel manufacturing company tomorrow.

Air Force One is due to touch down at San Francisco International Airport in a few hours, and the President will be headed into San Francisco for a pair of pricey fundraisers to benefit the re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Tomorrow morning he’ll be at Solyndra Inc., which received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy – funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama Administration’s economic stimulus package – to build a big new manufacturing plant just up the road from its existing facility.

Jared Bernstein, chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, told reporters today “we’re excited about what Solyndra is doing and about the president’s trip” as a chance to “get out of the beltway bubble” and see, hear and feel what’s going on in the economy, good and bad.

The Recovery Act has created or saved 2.5 million jobs, Bernstein said, but that’s not enough – the nation needs far more robust job growth. He cited the President’s recent comment that “the only economic news most people want to hear is ‘You’re hired.’ ”

Solyndra is not only about new jobs today, but also “about new industries tomorrow,” Bernstein said – a clean-energy industry that will protect the environment while reducing dependency on foreign oil. With the economy still shaky, unemployment still to high and credit still hard to get, government must continue to provide incentives for such progress, he said.

Matt Rogers, Senior Advisor to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, said tomorrow’s event is “a good opportunity to reflect on where we’ve come with the Recovery act, and where we’re headed.”

Solyndra is expected to produce 230 megawatts worth of solar panels per year, with the first product rolling off its new assembly line sometime this fall, Rogers said. This is an example of the United States re-establishing its leadership in clean energy high-tech manufacturing, an underpinning of the economy just as important as the innovation that makes it possible.

And “the good news will be compounded if you look just down the street from Solyndra,” he added, where Tesla and Toyota are partnering to produce electric vehicles at the recently-closed New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant. A staffer on today’s call couldn’t immediately say whether Obama will meet tomorrow with any Tesla or NUMMI-related officials.

Meanwhile, Republicans decried the President’s arrival for the San Francisco fundraisers. Read it, after the jump…
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The Recovery Act, one year later

Today is the one-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the rhetoric is flying hot and heavy.

The President’s Council of Economic Advisers, chaired by former Cal professor Christina Romer, estimates 256,000 California jobs were created or saved by the Recovery Act in 2009; more than $34.8 billion in Recovery funds have been made available to the state, with more than $22.4 billion already spent.

That includes $3.5 billion for 1,041 transportation projects; 5,663 Recovery Act-backed small business loans supporting more than $3.4 billion in lending; about $6.4 billion in tax relief for 12.6 million California working families through the Making Work Pay credit; expanded unemployment benefits for more than 2.5 million Californians; more than $1.3 billion in one-time economic relief payments of $250 each to more than 5.2 million California seniors, veterans, and other high-need residents; funding of almost $50,000 education positions; and more than $6.5 billion available to stave off additional MediCal cuts.

California’s unemployment rate remains at 12.4 percent, well above the 10 percent national rate, and Republicans’ mantra has become “Where are the jobs?” To that, the Obama Administration replies:

(click graph to enlarge)

Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — grew at an annual 2.2 percent in 2009’s third quarter and 5.7 percent in the fourth quarter; compare that to minus 6.4 percent during the recession’s deepest point, 2009’s first quarter.

As Brad DeLong, a University of California, Berkeley economics professor and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, put it on the stimulus’ six-month anniversary, “(j)ob losses are a lagging indicator and will be three or four months behind what’s happening to production. You’ve got to turn production around before you can turn employment around.”

In other words, employment trends don’t turn on a dime, and it’s going to be a long slow slog back to pre-recession levels as employers regain their confidence enough to hire.

Lots of spin from both sides of the aisle, after the jump…
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Recovery Act $$$ for Alameda County, Oakland

In short: $11 million to Alameda County for housing rehab and job creation, and $6.8 million to support Early Head Start in Oakland.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released $2 billion from its Neighborhood Stabilization Program today, including the $11 million for Alameda County, bankrolled by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The NSP aims to spur economic development in hard-hit communities and create jobs by providing resources to buy and rehabilitate vacant homes and convert them to affordable housing. More specifically, the money is supposed to be used to help state and local governments and non-profit developers collaborate to buy land and property; demolish or rehabilitate abandoned homes and buildings; and/or to offer down-payment and closing cost assistance to low- to middle-income homebuyers. Grantees can also create “land banks” to assemble, temporarily manage, and dispose of foreclosed homes.

The awards also require housing counseling for families receiving homebuyer assistance funds through the NSP, and grantees must ensure that new homebuyers under this program get mortgages from lenders who agree to comply with sound lending practices.

California received about $318 million under today’s grant release; Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said it’ll “help provide prompt relief and assistance to individuals, families and communities while also helping create jobs throughout California.”

More about the NSP, and about the Early Head Start money for Oakland, after the jump…
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Emeryville’s Amyris gets $25m recovery grant

Emeryville-based Amyris Biotechnologies Inc. will get a $25 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for a pilot plant producing renewable fuel – a diesel substitute – by fermenting sweet sorghum.

The Energy Department doled out $564 million yesterday to 19 such bio-refinery projects nationwide; Amyris was the only Bay Area recipient. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hope the projects will help lay a foundation for full commercial-scale development of a U.S. biomass industry, reducing the nation’s foreign-oil dependence while creating jobs.

Amyris’ plant will also be able to co-produce lubricants, polymers and other petro-chemical susbstitutes. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said the plant “would create approximately 75 new jobs in the area and propel Amyris’ cutting-edge renewable fuel technology.

“My district employs the brightest talent to harness the potential of transformational technologies to tackle our energy and global climate challenges. This work spurs economic development throughout the nation and provides direct benefits for the economy and workers throughout the East Bay,” Lee said.


What they’re saying about today’s job numbers

Democrats are pleased by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ announcement this morning that 11,000 jobs were lost in November – in the prior 3 months, payroll job losses had averaged 135,000 a month – and the unemployment rate fell to 10 percent (down from 10.2 percent in October), the best monthly jobs report since December 2007.

From House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez:

“Today’s news that our nation’s unemployment rate fell in November is a sign that the Obama administration and Democratic Congress’ efforts are helping to move our economy in the right direction. When President Obama first inherited this crisis, our economy was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs each month. Today’s figures reflect what the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and a growing number of economists have told us: that the Recovery Act is helping blunt layoffs and reduce the unemployment rate.

“This hopeful report is also a reminder that our work is far from over. Each job lost is one too many. We must not let up on our efforts to stem further job losses and get our economy working for every American. While the nation’s employment situation may be stabilizing, millions of Americans are still without a job. In the coming weeks, Congress will move to provide additional relief to those who are struggling to pay their bills while they look for a job.”

Not good enough, say Republicans. From Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the ranking Republican on Miller’s committee:

“Any reduction in unemployment is welcome news, but a 10 percent unemployment rate is certainly not cause for celebration. Millions of Americans still cannot find jobs, and millions more remain so discouraged they’ve stopped seeking employment entirely.

“More than nine months since enactment of the stimulus, the unemployment rate remains two full percentage points higher than Democrats predicted. To consider this an economic recovery is an affront to the workers who remain jobless and the small businesses too uncertain to grow and hire because of the litany of economic threats looming in Washington.

“To achieve true economic recovery, America needs pro-growth policies. Instead, Democrats in Congress and the White House remain stubbornly committed to a job-killing agenda that includes card check, cap-and-tax, a government takeover of health care, and deficits as far as the eye can see. Summits and spending are not solutions.”

Robert Hall – a Stanford economics professor, Hoover Institution senior fellow, member of the Congressional Budget Office Advisory Committee since 1993 and president-elect of the American Economic Association – told me this morning that the job numbers “were a pleasant surprise and give some hope that we have reached bottom in payroll employment, but it would be going way to far to suggest that we can revise upward the fairly dismal forecasts for job growth in the next couple of years. Anyway, I don’t forecast, as it would conflict with my business cycle chronology function at the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research).”

But as for what expectations should’ve been up until now, he said, “All forecasters got the job situation wrong for this year. It’s preposterous to try to measure the effects of the stimulus by comparing actual to a year-ago forecast. All reasonable models say that the job situation would have been worse absent the stimulus, though there is a lot of disagreement on the amount.”


Stimulus funds for local energy-storage projects

Bay Area companies have been awarded more than $49 million in economic-stimulus funds for energy storage projects aimed at improving the efficiency and reliability of the nation’s electrical grid, the U.S. Department of Energy announced this morning.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced $620 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money for 32 projects across the nation, leveraged with $1 billion in private-sector funds. California is getting about $175 million in ARRA funding to support more than $679 billion in projects.

“These demonstration projects will further our knowledge and understanding of what works best and delivers the best results for the Smart Grid, setting the course for a modern grid that is critical to achieving our energy goals,” Chu said in a news release. “This funding will be used to show how Smart Grid technologies can be applied to whole systems to promote energy savings for consumers, increase energy efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.”

Alameda-based Primus Power Corp. will get $14 million for a wind energy “farm” that will store energy for the Modesto Irrigation District, replacing a planned fossil fuel plant. The project’s total cost is $46.7 million.

Berkeley-based Seeo Inc. will get $6,196,060 to develop and deploy a prototype battery system based on the company’s proprietary nanostructured polymer electrolytes; this new class of advanced lithium-ion rechargeable battery is expected to show improvements in energy density, battery life, safety and cost, and would be targeted for use in utility-scale operations such as community energy storage projects. The project’s total cost is $12,392,120.

Fremont-based Amber Kinetics Inc. will get $4 million to develop and demonstrate a new flywheel technology for use in grid-connected, low-cost bulk energy storage; this effort, in partnership with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is expected to improve on traditional flywheel systems to produce higher efficiency and lower costs competitive with pumped hyrdo technologies. The project’s total cost is $10 million.

And San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will get $25 million to build and validate the design, performance and reliability of an advanced, underground compressed air energy storage plant using a saline porous rock formation near Bakersfield. The project’s total cost is $355,938,600.