Forum focuses on potential for clean energy jobs

One solution to the nation’s unemployment crisis is the creation of clean energy jobs, but to achieve that goal everyone must be involved in the effort, participants in a Congressional forum agreed.

Congressman Keith Ellison, who represents Minnesota’s 5th District, hosted the forum Sept. 8 at the South Education Center in Richfield. A large crowd listened and engaged in discussion with the panelists, who described local clean energy efforts and their connection to work at the federal level.

All agreed the potential for the growth of clean energy businesses and jobs is huge.

“One of the places we can get the biggest bang for the buck is retrofitting houses to make them more energy efficient,” said John Dybvig, economic development manager for the Blue Green Alliance, a union-environmental coalition advocating for a green economy.

The grid for delivering electricity needs to be upgraded and demand already has grown immensely for energy products like wind turbines, solar panels and geothermal systems. “We’re behind a number of countries as far as manufacturing output for a lot of these products,” Dybvig noted.

Bill Mackey, recording secretary for IBEW Local 110 in St. Paul, has first-hand experience with the growth of clean energy jobs, having been involved in the three largest solar panel installations in Minnesota. He currently works for Hunt Electric to promote business development in renewable energy.

“I put my union brothers and sisters back to work every time I win a bid,” he said. But Mackey and the other panelists said not enough is being done to promote clean energy business development – and the benefits are not yet being shared equally among all Minnesotans.

Addressing climate change

In addition to creating jobs, clean energy is essential to slow climate change and protect the planet, said J. Drake Hamilton, science and policy director for Fresh Energy, a nonprofit organization leading the transition to a clean, efficient and fair energy system.

For the last 25 years, the temperature of the planet has been higher than average, leading to changes that have posed threats to plants and animals all over the globe.

“A state like Minnesota is right in the crossroads of global warming” because of its location, she said. “We’re going to see the changes first and we have a lot at stake.”

At the same time, Minnesota can be a leader because of its tradition of concern for people and the environment, Hamilton said. For example, Minnesota has a law requiring 25% of the electricity produced by the state’s utilities to come from renewables by 2025.

Minnesotans need to push a national agenda for clean energy and passage of bills such as the American POWER Act to create American jobs and achieve energy security, while reducing carbon pollution, she said.

Making changes won’t be easy because it will mean letting go of some older, highly polluting technologies, said Gerardo Ruiz, CEO of Solarflow Energy, a Minneapolis company providing solar photovoltaic services to homes and businesses

Consumers can play a role by making energy-conscious choices, he said. “A clean economy, a green economy, is about responsible energy.”

Who’s at the table?

As a new economy is developed, no one must be left behind, the panelists agreed. Featured speaker was Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green for All, a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.

People of color, low-income workers and other under-represented communities must be part of the discussion and need to benefit from the solutions, she said. Ellis-Lamkins recalled her childhood growing up in an area of northern California where the only available work was at refineries that spewed pollution into the neighborhoods. But people were grateful to have a decent-paying job, she said.

As a labor leader in California and now as head of Green for All, Ellis-Lamkins has worked to promote both good jobs and a clean environment.

“We as a community have to say, ‘We deserve better choices,’” she said.

To make the transition, the environmental movement must reach out and “be a more diverse movement,” Ellis-Lamkins urged. “If you want to win, you have to have more than the people who agree with you.”

A recurring theme of the panel was that Americans can’t wait for the people in Washington, D.C., to take the lead.

“This movement for a clean, green economy will not be led by politicians,” Congressman Ellison said in applauding everyone who attended the forum. “It will be led by you.”

For more information, visit the following websites:

Blue Green Alliance

IBEW Local 110

Fresh Energy

Solarflow Energy

Green for All

Congressman Keith Ellison

This article is reprinted from a story by By Barb Kucera, Workday Minnesota editor, on 13 September 2010.