Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is excited. And when Sanders – longtime maverick populist – is in that frame of mind, you know something right and smart is in the works.
In this case it’s the Energy Savings Act of 2007, which the Senate is now debating. Sanders is so keen on this legislation because of the opportunity not only to address global warming and energy needs, but also to create millions of new jobs and make sure our workforce has the skills needed to fill them.
Yesterday afternoon, the Senate adopted the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Workforce Development Amendment sponsored by Sanders and recent cosponsor, Senator Hillary Clinton. The amendment allots $100 million to train workers in “green collar jobs” – jobs that involve the design, manufacture, installation, operation, and maintenance of clean, efficient energy technologies.
“Congress obviously needs to move aggressively to address the crisis of global warming,” Sanders told me, “and there are signs that we are going to succeed in doing that. The good news is that as we move forward with renewable energy and energy efficiency industries – although there will be some job dislocation – we can create millions of new jobs.”
The amendment calls for up to $40 million in grants awarded on a competitive basis for a national training partnerships program, $40 million towards state training partnership programs, and additional funding for “national and state industry-wide research, labor market information, and labor exchange programs” that would “help develop standards and curricula needed for effective training….”
These training programs – according to government, industry, labor and community activists – are desperately needed. As Sanders put it, “The problem is right now if a person wants to retrofit their home to make it more energy efficient – and there are studies that indicate an average homeowner can reduce energy costs by 40% by doing this – you would have a hard time finding trained workers to do that. If you wanted to install solar panels, you would have a hard time finding trained workers to do that. The same for a wind turbine, etc.”
In a letter supporting the “Sanders-Clinton amendment,” the National Association of Energy Service Companies, American Solar Energy Society, American Wind Energy Association, Renewable Fuels Association, and Solar Energy Industries Association – representing hundreds of companies in domestic biomass, wind, solar energy, geothermal power, fuel cells and more – wrote, “Across the country, our companies experience workforce shortages as one of the key barriers to growth.” The letter cited a 2006 study by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) identifying “the shortage of training and skills as a leading non-technical barrier to renewable energy and energy efficiency growth.”