On The Way To The San Joaquin Valley's New Industry

Green jobs could be a game changer in the San Joaquin Valley, where joblessness exceeds Appalachia levels, and where high temperatures, low incomes, geography and bountiful resources combine to create a strong foundation for an emerging clean-energy industry.

Many people consider clean energy to be solar farms, wind turbines, biofuel facilities and methane digesters. That's all true. And we're seeing more of them in the Valley, particularly solar.

UC Merced is conducting ground-breaking research. More farmers are using the sun to power their operations. Fallow farmland on the west side of the Valley is attractive to developers of proposed large-scale solar projects, as this item in Sierra2thesea notes, because we have something many regions don't: few environmental issues and ample access to the transmission grid.

But, clean energy also is weatherization, upgraded air conditioners, more efficient lighting and smarter use of electricity. Such efficiency measures are key to the state's overall clean-energy plan. In fact, federal Department of Energy officials call efficiency the "low-hanging fruit" of clean energy.

Relatively inexpensive fixes can reap maximum savings for businesses and homeowners who struggle to pay their energy bills. At my house, the summer power bill is exceeded only by my mortgage. Cutting my utility costs means more money in my pocket - and ultimately into the economy.

Developing a workforce capable of capitalizing on the growth of clean energy and conservation is key. More educational and training programs are being created, but not necessarily in a coordinated way, UC Berkeley points out in a new study that focuses heavily on the energy-efficiently part of the new economy.

Here is a news release on that report, plus the study itself.

In a nutshell, the comprehensive analysis concludes that energy efficiency goals provide career opportunities for Californians, but that training and education programs are fragmented.

The study forecasts about $11.2 billion worth of public and private investments in energy efficiency in California by 2020, up from $6.6 billion in 2010. The future jobs that are directly related to energy efficiency work — and thus in need of “green” training — are primarily in traditional construction trades, such electricians, carpenters and sheet metal workers, and the researchers said that very few are in new specialized “green” occupations such as energy auditors or solar installers.

However, researchers are worried about work quality. Poor quality installation and maintenance of energy-efficient equipment and materials is common in some sectors, prior research has shown, and the UC Berkeley team found a correlation between low wages wages and high worker turnover.

They found more than 1,000 training programs throughout the state already offering basic- to advanced training for the most in-demand occupations. These are in four-year universities, community colleges, state-certified apprenticeship programs, utility-training centers, private training organizations, community-based organizations and high school career technical programs.

Concerns about shortages of jobs for graduates from education and training programs are real, and likely to persist through 2020, particularly for those with less than four years of college, so emphasis should be placed on revamping and leveraging existing training programs, the researchers noted in their report.

Here are some recommendations:

•Set clear skill certification requirements for workers doing energy efficiency work and encourage businesses to adopt them, particularly as new technologies are introduced

•Support employers who invest in a stable, higher skill and higher wage workforce by enforcing building codes and other regulations, by setting standards on contractors who receive public and ratepayer funded incentives or contracts, and by requiring skill certifications for workers;

•Focus workforce education and training on “greening” the traditional trade occupations, rather than creating new narrow and short-term energy efficiency-specific training programs;

•Support state-certified apprenticeships and improve coordination between community colleges programs and apprenticeships.

If we do this right, clean energy can be to the San Joaquin Valley what high tech is to Silicon Valley and movie making is to Hollywood.

Image: pocketinfo.net