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Working Green, Making Green
Asbury Park Press
December 10, 2008
By David P. Willis
With the economy in tatters, hitting blue-collar and white-collar workers alike, there’s a push for more workers who wear another colored color.
The color is green.
“This is an opportunity to take a problem in terms of the economy and the work force and marry it to something that can be something great, like green renewable energy, green jobs,” said Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt, D-Camden, during a panel at last week’s 2008 Governor’s Conference on Workforce & Economic Development in Atlantic City.
But that raises the question—just what is a green-collar job?
It’s “someone who is working on projects that relate to saving energy or creating cleaner energy,” said Carl E. Van Horn, professor of public policy and director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.
And at a time when the economy is in recession and major industries, such as financial services and construction, are in the dumps, these green-collar jobs might be the sweet spot.
Why? It’s the push, both in the U.S., and in New Jersey specifically, toward saving energy and using renewable sources for power, cutting down on the electricity generated by fossil fuels, such as coal.
In October, Gov. Jon S. Corzine unveiled a plan calling for the state to obtain 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources and reduce consumption by 20 percent by 2020.
It also set a course to upgrade energy infrastructure and boost spending on clean energy technologies and businesses to create an estimate 20,000 industrial jobs.
These jobs include workers who install weather stripping in homes, perform energy audits to determine if homes are energy-efficient or put solar-power systems on roofs.
They could design renewable energy systems, install energy-efficient heating and air-conditioning systems in buildings or design wind turbines.
“There is going to be a blend of brand new jobs, things that no one’s doing today, real economic growth produced by that, as well as some modification of existing work,” said Ralph Izzo, chairman, chief executive office and president of Public Service Enterprise Group.
The Newark-based company is part of a joint venture, Garden State Offshore Energy, that has proposed a 350-mefgawatt wind farm off the coast of South Jersey. It will create new jobs in the state.
Among other jobs, workers will have to assemble, inspect and maintain the project’s wind turbines and towers, Izzo said.
“Those jobs don’t exist today…They are going to be taken from people who have an interest in welding, in mechanics, in crane operations,” Izzo said.
The push to improve the environment and decrease the dependence on foreign oil is fueling the job prospects. “I think it’s a brilliant natural fit for stimulating the economy,” Rizzo said.
Laurence M. Downes, chairman and CEO of New Jersey Resources, the parent company of New Jersey Natural Gas, agreed. “There is going to be investment in the state’s energy infrastructure,” he said.
“If we are going to make real progress in the area of improving the carbon footprint, reducing carbon emissions, the reality is the infrastructure that powers the economy right now, which primarily uses carbon-based fuels, that infrastructure will have to change,” Downes said.
Jeanne M. Fox, president of the state Board of Public Utilities, said of the 20,000 jobs to be created by the state’s plans, about 8,300 will be installation and construction jobs, while about 7,400 will be operations and maintenance jobs and more than 4,000 will be ancillary positions.
“Especially in this economy when people are losing their jobs—construction jobs—these are the people that have some kind of skill,” Fox said.
Some of the work is not exactly new and just requires additional training. For instance, an electrician can be trained to work on solar systems, Van Horn said.
Jeanne Oswald, vice president of the Center for Energy and Environmental Training at Isles Inc,. a Trenton community development organization, said her group will begin training sessions to prepare people for jobs such as sealing homes to make them more energy-efficient.
“Green-collar jobs like those…I believe are a way out of poverty,” Oswald said. “I believe they are a way to enhance the middle class.”
The renewable-energy industry will help to make up the decline of other occupations, Van Horn said.
“That’s because it suits our economy well. We have a big need for energy,” Van Horn said. “We have highly skilled workers who can do that work.”
And the jobs can’t be outsourced to other countries, said David J. Socolow, commissioner of the state Department of Labor. “That is another reason to focus on those green jobs, because they are done here in New Jersey.”