Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thompson says investment in clean energy means jobs for Southern Nevada

The Silver State will soon run out of major construction projects: The Strip’s massive CityCenter will be complete by the end of the year, and the Hoover Dam bypass bridge will conclude soon as well.

That’s why investment in clean energy is more important to the Silver State than ever, said Danny Thompson, head of the Nevada chapter of the AFL-CIO.

Thompson, who participated in a panel on renewable power at today’s National Clean Energy Summit 2.0 at UNLV, said construction unemployment in Southern Nevada is well over 20 percent, and once those big developments on the Strip and local roadway construction projects end, that jobless level is likely to worsen without new investments.

Thompson focused his remarks on the need for a national renewable-energy portfolio standard similar to the one Nevada has. The state’s standard requires utilities to derive 25 percent of their power from renewables by 2025. That mandate has sent a stream of dollars into alternative energy. The result: New jobs building solar power plants and other green developments. A national standard would pay even bigger dividends, Thompson said.

“There are opportunities for jobs not just in construction and operations, but manufacturing,” Thompson said.

Also, the public sector will lead the way on cultivating the green economy, he said.

“Public works offers the jobs of the future, because today, the private sector is in the toilet,” Thompson said.

But green jobs won’t truly bolster the economy unless they’re “good” jobs, said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. That means governments need to write policies that encourage companies in the green sector to offer living wages and benefits to employees.

“They should be able to end up retiring and living a middle-class way of life,” O’Sullivan said.

Nationally, 1.6 million construction workers lack jobs, O’Sullivan said.

One initiative could help: One program about to get under way would fund weatherizing for 1 million low-income housing units in the next 12 months to 18 months, up from an average of 140,000 units a year that receive weatherization today. Nearly 40 million homes are eligible for weatherizing programs, and 100 million homes nationwide need some weatherization, O’Sullivan said.

The country just doesn’t have the labor force to handle that volume of work, though. Training dollars from the departments of Labor and Energy would help contractors move toward a capacity of 5 million to 10 million residential weatherization projects a year, O’Sullivan said.

Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, also sat on the panel.

Horsford said Nevada is “truly at the center for renewable-energy development in the west, if not throughout the entire United States.”

Launching the green economy will start with training workers to weatherize homes and retrofit schools for energy conservation.

“Nevada is open and ready for business,” Horsford said.


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