Cal Poly

Solar Workers Find Green Jobs Aren't A Myth

Think Industrial Revolution

The drumbeat over whether green jobs really exist has been steady throughout 2011. Much of the debate stems from the definition of "green," but a front page story in the Riverside Press Enterprise on Christmas Day is worth noting.

The headline reads, "Solar Projects Bring Precious Jobs." Here's a link to the online version of the story.

The article by Leslie Berkman quotes a handful of formerly unemployed truckers, construction workers and others who are among some 700 people building the $2.2 billion Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating site in the Mojave Desert - one of several large-scale solar projects under way or proposed in Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties.

"This is a godsend for a lot of people," said Tim West, a carpenter quoted by Berkman.

The plants will help California reach its 33 percent renewables mandate, but also provide badly needed jobs during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Construction jobs in the Inland Empire portion of California have fallen 57 percent since the height of the building boom, Berkman writes.

The solar construction boom is expected to last in that region for at least five years. Those plants won't require as many employees when they are operating, but at least people such as West and Lee Russell, a former trucker driver-turned-apprentice who now earns $24 per hour at the solar plant and who also was quoted in the Press Enterprise article, are working now.

The Mojave Desert isn't the only place in California where solar jobs are likely to soar. Dozens of solar projects are making their way through the planning process in San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties as well, where planners are being cautious to avoid avoid conflicts with prime farm land. Read more here.

Meanwhile, the solar and wind industries are attracting some savvy investors, such as Warren Buffett, Google and KKR & Co.. They are investing in select projects in California and elsewhere. Buffett, who also has interests in oil companies, invested in two solar projects that have power purchase agreements in place, noted The Motley Fool.

Critics contend solar energy is too expensive and can't last without subsidies, but installation costs are falling (43 percent decline since 1998, according to this study by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab), panels are becoming more efficient and it won't be long before solar electricity reaches grid parity. In fact, some experts say it's already there. Check out this recent blog post by my colleague, Mike Nemeth.

Solar energy isn't the only green industry headed for prime time. Corporate America has discovered that going green adds more green to its bottom line. Major companies are beefing up their sustainability departments (dubbed "green teams) and are seeking out ways to cut energy consumption. And let's not forget energy benchmarking, which is gaining a higher profile, especially in California where a law requires data before certain property can be sold.

Find out more here, here, here and here.

Or listen to Cal Poly's Mr Eco rap.

Sure, green companies will come and go. There will be some high-profile implosions like Solyndra, and others will just kind of slip away into the night. Big companies will acquire smaller ones and consolidations will occur. Startups will carve out a niche, and established businesses will expand to take advantage of green opportunities.

This is a young dynamic industry - and it's on the move.

Mr. Eco takes on energy efficiency at Cal Poly

We're always looking for new ways to present energy efficiency to the masses.

In this video, dubbed "Turn Em Out," Mr. Eco parodies rapper T.I.'s "Bring Em Out." That latter video has more than 4.1 million views, while our Mr. Eco at this writing had yet to break 1,000.

But energy efficiency is tough to get the crowd yellin(g). According to details on YouTube, it was filmed all over the campus of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "with Mr. Eco cruising through campus in an electric car reminding everyone to 'Turn Em Out.'"

Mr. Eco included a very Cal Poly cast of cameos that included President Jeffrey D. Armstrong, ASI President Kiyana Tabrizi, Sustainability Coordinator Dennis Elliot, Soccer Coach Paul Holocher, Officer Chad Reiley and Musty The Mustang. Wikipedia says in T.I.'s version, Jay-Z offers a vocal sample, while DJ Drama, Jazze Pha and Swizz Beatz made cameo appearances.

Mr. Eco calls himself an environmental rap superhero who incorporates sustainable living tips into parodies and represents the Alliance to Save Energy's Cal Poly Green Campus Program.

There's more at or his YouTube channel.

The Coming Solar Energy Revolution in California and the San Joaquin Valley

It's not often that tiny Fowler hosts the governor, but that's what happened today when Jerry Brown used the Fresno County community of 5,500 people and a high school jazz band as the backdrop for signing three renewable-energy bills into law.

The legislation allows Fowler Unified School District to save $14 million in energy costs over 25 years; authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission to collect funds for renewable-energy rebates (typically, about $83 million each year); and requires the state Department of Fish and Game to accelerate its permitting process for clean-energy projects.

The Fowler school district will affix solar panels on Marshall Elementary, which will enable the district to save almost $500,000 the first year. But it won't be the only school in the state to get solar energy. The bill, SB 585, authored by Sen. Christine Kehoe D-San Diego, authorizes $200 million for the statewide California Solar Initiative, according to Brown's office.

Brown's office noted the bills were signed on the same day the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District issued its third dirty air alert of the week.

"California’s children deserve clean air and a bright future,” said Brown. “They deserve good jobs and a strong economy. The bills I signed today are part of a solar-energy revolution that is sweeping our state. These bills will help create jobs, lower electric bills and clean up the air we breathe.” Learn more here and in this Fresno Bee story.

The projects will help meet the state's objective of 20,000 megawatts from renewable sources by 2020. The California Solar Initiative, funded through utility companies, gives rebates for solar installations on commercial, industrial, nonprofit and government and other non-residential buildings, including schools.

The Department of Fish and Game bill, introduced by Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, could help speed up applications in the Valley and high desert region of Kern County, where, according to Fish and Game officials, thousands of acres of proposed clean-energy projects are proposed.

The Valley, with high power bills, lots of land and sun, along with a midstate location and access to transmission lines and bright minds at UC Merced, Fresno State University and Cal Poly, could be a leader in solar and other types of clean energy.

Brown's choice of words, describing a solar-energy "revolution" in California, was notable. His highly public event was on the same day that President Obama announced the winners of a $37 million "jobs and innovation" challenge that include a proposed collaboration between high-tech capital and technology in San Diego with the natural resources of Imperial County to create a "mega-region" of renewable energy.

The opportunity in California is staggering.

Fresno State University Is Showcase of Green, According to College Guide

With a world-famous water institute and the largest solar-paneled parking structure on any U.S. college campus, California State University, Fresno, is a showcase for clean and renewable energy.

As a result, it has appeared for the first time in Princeton Review's Guide to 311 green colleges in the United States and Canada. The guide does not rank the campuses, but lists them alphabetically with highlights of their green features.

Princeton Review noted the energy-efficiency features of the new Henry Madden Library, the solar parking structure and the innovation of the International Center for Water Technology, which, among other things, has helped Fresno State slash irrigated water use by one third.

"California State University, Fresno, is an impressive green campus in an impressive green state," the review states.

California State University, Stanislaus, and University of The Pacific also are featured in the guide. The publication highlights the Master's in Ecology and Sustainability at CSU Stanislaus, and the $4 million that faculty at UOP in Stockton received for environmental research since 2005.

Other college campuses profiled in the guide are Cal Poly, Pomona (methane from a landfill helps power the school); California College of The Arts in San Francisco (70% waste-diversion rate); Chico State (Sierra Club's "cool list"); California State universities Humboldt and Monterey Bay (both have revolving energy funds) and several University of California campuses, including Riverside (Center for Environmental Research & Technology and Center for Sustainability & Suburban Development.)>

My Alma mater, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, was not featured in this year's guide, but University of Oregon (Sustainability Leadership Academy), where my daughter is an environmental studies major, was included.

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