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Waiting for Green Energy

Recently I’ve been working on a book about green careers, which will be part of a four-volume set called Progressive Careers, to be published by JIST next fall. As I noted in a previous blog, much of the information about green careers is difficult to obtain or, at best, still in flux.

One hard-to-research topic is the number of workers presently employed and the anticipated job growth and openings. In November, the Employment and Training Administration made the first moves toward obtaining this information by awarding grants to labor market information (LMI) agencies in several states. For example, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development was awarded $800,000 for a research project that "will quantify green jobs in Alaska, determine the supply and demand for green workers, identify green training programs, and enhance Alaska’s online labor exchange to enable green-related job searches. Data collection strategies include the distribution of green job surveys to both experts and employers, development of green career lattices, and creation of green jobs skills profiles using the Skills Based Projections system. This project will deliver several LMI products to better target training, education, and investments, leading to more informed public policies."

In some cases, the grantees are partnering with adjacent states. For example, Vermont put together a consortium with the rest of New England, plus New York and New Jersey, and was awarded a $3,999,923 grant.

These grants, totaling $48.8 million, are funded out of President Obama’s stimulus plan—specifically, the $500 million part that’s intended to encourage training for green jobs and thus promote economic growth. The LMI projects being funded are likely to take at least a year to produce any useful information, and they’re one more example of how the stimulus plan is taking a long time to deliver jobs to a recession-weary nation. Yes, the funded projects are already creating or saving jobs for labor economists, data analysts, survey researchers, and other people involved in the occupational information R&D effort. (And I love these people! They make my work possible.) But the large employment impact intended to result from these grants—people finding jobs in green industries—won’t happen until after the information has been created and disseminated.

Consider this one more example of how slowly America is transitioning toward a green economy. Yesterday’s New York Times ran a story called "Elusive Goal of Greening U.S. Energy," featuring some discouraging news, such as the laying off of nearly half the workers at the Gamesa wind turbine plant in western Pennsylvania. However, the article was not all gloom. "The administration notes that Solyndra, a company that makes solar photovoltaic panels in Fremont Calif., received a $535 million loan guarantee to finance a manufacturing plant, creating 3,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs. In addition, the government’s $11 billion program to modernize the nation’s power grid—to make it easier to absorb electricity generated by wind and solar power—is just getting off the ground, officials say. They say the weatherization part of the stimulus package has already put many people to work in California, Ohio, Georgia and other states, and that number is expected to more than double this winter and spring."
Nevertheless, green energy will continue to be a slow starter in this country until we impose a requirement that a certain percentage of our energy be derived from renewable sources by a specific date—for example, 20 percent by 2020. It’s true that several states have imposed such mandates. But if you look at the summary of these mandates on the Department of Energy’s Web site, you’ll see that some states have set very modest goals (for example, Arizona’s goal of 15 percent by 2025), and other states have set no goals at all (for example, the Sunshine State).

Expect to hear fine rhetoric about energy efficiency at the United Nations Climate Change Conference that opens in Copenhagen next week, but I’m waiting for concrete actions that will encourage investors to put their money into the green energy industries.