Riverside Press Enterprise

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.