As an example Muro pointed to ATR, an engineering firm in Columbia that has developed robotics and other systems, with the military as a major client. With a stimulus grant, the firm has developed sun-tracking solar power units, which it's now peddling for home, business and public use.
But legislation to help finance the turbines was shelved for further study as lawmakers of both parties questioned the potential costs to ratepayers.
Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House minority leader who represents Southern Maryland, said joblessness is too severe right now to pick and choose which kinds of jobs to create. "I'm more concerned about the economy of now, not the economy of the future," he said noting that BP Solar had closed its manufacturing plant in Frederick.
Some economists suggest for the near term, green jobs will remain a relatively small part of the overall employment landscape, and prospects for growth are in more modest ventures, such as making or installing solar panels, insulating homes or recycling wastes.
"I think green jobs are an important part of our future," said Anirban Basu, CEO of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic consulting firm. But for now, he argued, the government needs to focus its efforts on "the most realistic jobs or technologies today."
The proposed oil-recycling plant in Fairfield may fit that description. FCC Environmental, the Texas-based subsidiary of a multinational company headquartered in Spain, plans to recycle 40 million gallons of used motor oil on the site of an old asphalt terminal operated by Chevron.
"We like to say this is green because we take a material and return it to its original form," said Vince Glorioso, vice president for FCC Environmental's existing local operations, which include collecting used oil and recycling oil filters and antifreeze.
In the United States, the vast majority of the 1.2 billion gallons of used oil collected every year winds up being burned in industrial furnaces — or dumped illegally.
The increased price of oil in recent years has provided an economic incentive for such higher-grade recycling, Glorioso said. Baltimore was chosen for the first plant because it is within a day's drive of six or seven FCC oil collection facilities in the mid-Atlantic, and because the site has ready access to interstate highways, rail lines and the water.
The asphalt terminal site was attractive due to state and local tax breaks, Glorioso said. The state is providing a $5 million tax credit, while the city is giving the firm a 10-year property tax break on the value of the facility it builds.
SavWatt USA also got tax breaks to locate its LED light assembly operation in Baltimore. But according to CEO Michael Haug, a big attraction was the city's plans to retrofit its 70,000 streetlights with energy-saving fixtures. Hoping to get a piece of that lighting makeover, SavWatt moved into a 21,000-square-foot space near the stadium in March and has hired 30 workers so far.
Ultimately, city officials project saving taxpayers $7 million annually by switching to the long-lasting and energy-efficient bulbs. But the city's initial contract earlier this year to switch 11,000 streetlights to LED stalled when Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. — which gets paid $12 million by the city to provide and maintain most of its streetlights — raised safety concerns. Spokespeople for BGE and the city say they've been in negotiations and hope to resolve the dispute soon, but the delay has cast a shadow on hiring plans for SavWatt, its CEO says.
"If we don't get projects, we can't move forward," said Haug, who had predicted last winter that the operation could create as many as 500 jobs here. He said he still hoped to have 100 to 150 employed by year's end as the company angles for business with public and private entities.
Despite slow growth and even setbacks, Brookings' Muro said he's still sure that clean technology will gain in economic importance, but it's likely to take longer than many had hoped.
"This is not going to produce multiple millions of jobs in two or three years," he said. "It might produce a million jobs over a decade."