Pittsburgh and other metropolises of the Rust Belt are littered with the remnants of U.S. manufacturing: old car factories, old smelters, old steel furnaces, even old rail lines that once brought materials in and out. Earlier this year, I visited the Homestead Works, a sprawling collection of foundries and furnaces that once graced the cover of Scientific American back in 1892.
Much of it has been torn down, but still standing is the Carrie Furnace, where streams of molten metal once flowed to find use ultimately in the girders in our skyscrapers or the bodies of our cars. Those streams haven't flowed since 1982, and nearby Braddock, Pa.—which once supplied many of the workers at the Carrie Furnace—has felt their loss, dwindling to a few thousand people in recent decades.
It's not a pipe dream. Vacant manufacturing facilities in Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere have been filling up with manufacturers of the raw components of solar cells or some of the 8,000 moving parts that go into a modern wind turbine. These form the foundation of the clean-energy economy—and the source of so-called green jobs.
Even the Chinese are getting into the act; wind turbine manufacturer A-Power recently signed an agreement to source 50,000 metric tons of steel for 300 of its turbines from remaining U.S. steel works and to build a turbine assembly plant in Nevada. That has helped them win a contract to supply wind turbines in Texas.
But the Carrie Furnace will likely remain idle permanently, becoming a museum to the steel industry, according to Ron Baraff, director of museum collections and archives for the new owners of the site, the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. That's not a bad thing, but a few more green jobs wouldn't hurt either.
Editor's Note: David Biello is the host of a forthcoming series on PBS, titled Beyond the Light Switch. The series, produced by Detroit Public Television, will explore how transformation is coming to how we use and produce electricity, impacting the environment, national security and the economy.