Making jobs that make clean energy work

By MEREDITH MACKENZIE, UPI Correspondent   |   March 9, 2006 at 10:50 AM
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BOSTON, March 9 (UPI) -- Alternative energy sources, including wind turbines and solar photovoltaic panels, are being talked up in Congress, but clean energy isn't yet seen as a job-producing industry.

A movement is emerging, however, to present alternative energies as having the potential to create jobs in the production of major component parts of wind turbines and large-scale retrofitting projects to increase energy efficiency in residential areas.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has compared the drive for use of alternative energy to other national movements in America's history.

"There's a reason that some have compared the quest for energy independence to the Manhattan Project or the Apollo moon landing," he said in a Feb 28 speech in Washington. "Like those historic efforts, moving away from an oil economy is a major challenge that will require a sustained national commitment."

Obama is not alone. The Apollo Alliance, a nonprofit group that works to build jobs from the emerging market, derives its name from President Kennedy's call for action in the space race, and has the motto: "Good jobs, clean energy." The coalition brings together labor, business and environmental interests to work at state and municipal levels to craft long-term policies that support renewable energy.

Richard Eidlin, business outreach coordinator for Apollo Alliance, believes good jobs and investment in renewable energy don't have to be mutually exclusive; in fact, he sees thousands of jobs.

"We can do both," he said at the annual Northeast Sustainable Energy Association conference in Boston Wednesday. "We can have a strong economy and a healthy environment."

Apollo has been focused on introducing policy at the state and local levels, allowing for more control in implementing smaller, more direct, alternative fuel projects such as wind turbines at already existing facilities. Implementation of Apollo in Wisconsin has committed Milwaukee to reducing total energy usage by 15 percent by 2012, which has led to implementation of efficiency performance standards and to plans to buy alternative fuel vehicles for the city fleet.

The goal of the Apollo Alliance to create an energy-independent America and create jobs across sectors is greatly aided by the fact it is endorsed by 23 national labor unions, including the ALF-CIO and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Martin Aikens, a business agent for IBEW Local 103 in Dorchester, Mass., led the design team at the IBEW's facilities in the installation of a 100k/W wind turbine. The chapter received a grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for the work done on the turbine. It has also embraced solar technology, training members in installation of solar panels by incorporating photovoltaics into their training facility.

"I am proud of the role of IBEW has played in creating jobs," Aikens said. "We look at jobs in all areas, on the land, maintenance of the technology and renewable energy production."

Mark Dyer, of the Conservation Services Group, had another idea for creating jobs and promoting clean energy. In a sweeping project that he compared to Boston's "Big Dig," a infrastructure construction project that provided an estimated 43,000 new jobs related to construction and development, he proposed the mass retrofitting of the Northeast's residential areas to increase energy efficiency.

"We could systematically go to homes and retrofit them at the local level," he said. "People spending $4 billion a year would create 12,000 jobs in direct construction work and work that feeds into it, like sales, marketing, design, deconstruction and manufacturing. That's 30,000 jobs a year for 10 years."

Dyer proposed funding the project with a surcharge on electric bills and convincing homeowners they stand to benefit from energy saving improvements through savings on their utility bills. He said people already spend money on improvements to their homes, and this project would just be a matter of convincing people to make energy efficient improvements like improved insulation and compact fluorescent light bulbs.

"The technology is there, the financing mechanism is there," he said.

But just how the technology is viewed as a source of jobs is where Greg Sterzinger, director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, comes in.

Sternzinger's Washington-based nonprofit group has analyzed alternative energy sources for job potential and broke each source down and examined the job potential of component parts and examined the jobs to be had in those industries as well.

"Our methodology was that we would identify the components that are made or could be made, where the parts or renewable technology is, take them apart and break them down into their major component parts," Sternzinger said. "Then we identified each of those and break them down in a highly specific way.

"For example, take a wind turbine apart and find out where the transformer, the blade and the generator are made."

Then the group sought to identify areas of job growth in each of the individual manufacturing sectors for the components.

The analysis proved to be good for the state of Ohio, which does not have tremendous resources for renewable energy. But the Renewable Energy Policy Project study projected an estimated 11,688 jobs in wind energy development for the state, because it has a strong manufacturing base.

The Apollo Alliance's Richard Eidlin said there has to be political support for job development in renewable energy to flourish, however.

"The policy regime has to be well suited in development," he said. "If there is financial support and collaboration between business and labor, literally thousands of jobs that can be created in a short period of time if we have the political leadership and will to get it done."

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