Nearly 9 million new jobs and $970 billion in revenue were generated by the national energy industry in 2006, yet industry insiders are concerned that the growth will level off if Congress does not extend renewable energy tax credits.
A report researched by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. of Boulder, Cola, and released in 2007 goes on to state the economic impact of the growing renewable energy and energy efficiency industries.
Figures, and estimates, vary – the California Solar Energy Industries Association of Rio Vista says that up to 7,000 workers statewide are employed at solar energy companies, while some national organizations estimate that one out of four jobs in 2030 in the nation will be green-related.
No statistics specific to San Diego County were available.
Monique Hanis, director of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade association and lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., describes green collar jobs as any job involved with the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries.
This definition accounts for the obvious – installers, engineers and computer analysts – as well as accountants, administrators, truck drivers and mechanics employed by solar companies.
Green Collar Workers
A Wikipedia entry defines green collar workers as “employed in the environmental sectors of the economy, or in the agricultural sector. Environmental green-collar workers satisfy the demand for green development.”
Hanis says she started hearing the term green collar about two years ago. Irene Stillings, executive director of the San Diego- based California Center for Sustainable Energy, says she began to hear the word buzz a year ago.
As a result, the center is launching two new programs to provide workers with training for green collar jobs.
The first course, which is based on an Australian training and accreditation program called GreenPlumbers, teaches local plumbers to apply new technologies as well as more efficient installation methods. It is free.
The next program, set to launch this spring, will be more general and aimed at re-educating blue collar workers for green collar positions. The center hopes to receive funding from future federal legislation.
“It’s where we see large demand,” Stillings said. “We have no numbers, but we know there is a need.”
The center, a nonprofit, has seen its own staff numbers double during the past year to 38, and Stillings says she recently created a position for someone to run the new training programs.
Specifically, in the region, the need is for more technical workers, such as solar installers, according to Stillings.
Compared with the rest of the state, San Diego has a smaller number of solar energy companies, says Sue Kateley, executive director for the California Solar Energy Industries Association.
The local climate doesn’t demand a large need to offset heating and air conditioning like the rest of the state, she says.
Light On Workers
“San Diego is a little light (on workers),” Stillings stated. “We think there are significant resources available… in areas where people are underemployed or unemployed. No one has reached out to them.”
Despite the need for workers and developing educational and training programs, the job demand will halt if Congress does not extend renewable energy tax credits, says Kirk Mulligan, president and chief executive officer of Clean Power Systems Inc., a San Diego- based solar electric firm.
The credits will expire in 2008. Navigant Consulting Inc., a consulting firm based in Chicago, reports that 116,000 jobs and $I9 billion in U.S. investment could be lost in a one-year span if the credits are not renewed.
Clean Power Systems employs a staff of 27 and Mulligan expects to increase that number to 35 or 40 by the end of the year, 80 percent of which will be installer positions.
Mulligan says that most of the staff comes from a non-green background, so Clean Power Systems supplies employees with training and what can be a more competitive salary.
“It’s a huge indicator of job growth,” he said. “It’s a very big factor, the biggest factor…. It’s a key dynamic in job growth.”