Growing excitement around green jobs

We will be hearing many stories like this one over the next several years.

When Rita Bryer sees 300-foot-tall wind turbines sprouting up from the prairie near her home in western Oklahoma, she can’t help but wonder about the view from the top, where blades the size of semi-trucks spin.

“Out here, you can see the wind turbines from 10 miles away,” she said. “Think about how far you’ll be able to see when you’re at the top.”

So, partly out of curiosity, partly because she wants to be part of something new, the 51-year-old is leaving behind a career of odd jobs and oil-field work.

She’s going back to school to become a wind turbine mechanic — one who’ll have to scale the turbines to make repairs.

Across the country, people like Bryer are looking to the renewable energy sector in hopes its “green-collar jobs” will offer them stability in this shaky economy. Some are signing up for community college or apprenticeship programs that train students to be wind turbine mechanics, solar panel installers, fuel-cell engineers or energy efficiency experts. Video Watch how the green economy is growing in Pennsylvania »

Government support has rallied excitement for the prospect of a green jobs corps, as President Obama’s stimulus package puts about $20 billion into greening the economy, according to the White House.

n his recent speech to Congress, Obama said the U.S. will double its supply of renewable energy in three years. To do so, he’s calling on a new class of workers to be trained in environmental fields. Green jobs training programs will get $500 million from the stimulus.

The transformation of our energy industry to greener technologies will be critical for our economic recovery along with our national security. The idea is simple – having mechanics and technicians maintaining windmills and installing solar panels here in the United States is better for our economy than having workers working on Saudi oil rigs. The energy is cleaner, more Americans are employed, and American wealth isn’t shipped overseas.

It’s stunning to me that Republicans are ceding these arguments to Democrats.

Huge opportunity in Iran

Tom Friedman writes about the huge problems facing Iran now that oil prices have collapsed.

I’ve always been dubious about Barack Obama’s offer to negotiate with Iran — not because I didn’t believe that it was the right strategy, but because I didn’t believe we had enough leverage to succeed. And negotiating in the Middle East without leverage is like playing baseball without a bat.

Well, if Obama does win the presidency, my gut tells me that he’s going to get a chance to negotiate with the Iranians — with a bat in his hand.

Have you seen the reports that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is suffering from exhaustion? It’s probably because he is not sleeping at night. I know why. Watching oil prices fall from $147 a barrel to $57 is not like counting sheep. It’s the kind of thing that gives an Iranian autocrat bad dreams.

After all, it was the collapse of global oil prices in the early 1990s that brought down the Soviet Union. And Iran today is looking very Soviet to me.

As Vladimir Mau, president of Russia’s Academy of National Economy, pointed out to me, it was the long period of high oil prices followed by sharply lower oil prices that killed the Soviet Union. The spike in oil prices in the 1970s deluded the Kremlin into overextending subsidies at home and invading Afghanistan abroad — and then the collapse in prices in the ‘80s helped bring down that overextended empire.

This is an example of the tremendous leverage we get by destroying domestic demand for oil by switching to alternative fuels.

Silver lining

The Senate passed the new version of the bailout plan tonight. Many expect the House to come around on Friday.

One benefit with the new legislation involves the extension of tax credits for renewable energy.

Tech industry advocates in Washington said they were encouraged by the Senate’s addition of coveted tax incentives to the bill. Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said his organization is targeting 80 House bailout opponents who have a significant solar industry presence in their districts.

Until Tuesday, Resch said he was pessimistic about winning passage for the eight-year extension of tax credits for renewable energies. “Ironically, the failure of the bailout Monday in the House gave us a new lease on life to get this done,” he said. “This is an opportunity we can’t lose.”

He credited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada with “playing his cards close to the vest, and playing them at the right time” to get the tax-extension measures in the bill.

Resch called the tax-credit extension, which also would allow utilities to take advantage of the credits, “a game-changer” that will dramatically boost the solar industry and help create new business models.

Reid, in a news conference, predicted the renewable energy tax credits “will create tens of thousands of jobs right away.”

Swisher, the wind energy advocate, expressd similar sentiments: “I was depressed this was not going to get done. Then our hearts soared when we learned how the Senate would do this.”

Congress, Swisher said, should encourage new renewable energy businesses. He said 41 factories making wind industry products have opened in the United States in the past 18 months.

It’s stunning that these tax credits would not have been passed this year without the failure of the bailout bill earlier this week. It’s critical that we continue to encourage the development of alternative fuels, and the impact on our economy and our national security cannot be overstated. We cannot continue sending billions of dollars overseas to Russia, Venezuela and the Middle East. Instead, we can keep the money at home, and generate thousands of green jobs.

Senate might pass a compromise on energy and drilling

Congress and the Bush administration have made very little progress this year on addressing the short-term and long-term energy issues facing the nation. Incentives for wind and solar must be renewed by the end of the year. Otherwise, countless alternative energy projects are in jeopardy, which is one reason we see T. Boone Pickens touting his plan for wind power. Meanwhile, the Republicans gained a campaign issue after John McCain decided to shift his position of off-shore drilling.

A group of moderate Republicans and Democrats have been working together to forge a compromise bill, and we will likely see a vote on the measure in the fall.

High energy prices have become a bitterly contested political issue. Republicans are bashing Democrats for standing in the way of drilling for more oil and gas at home, while Democrats retort that their rivals are misleading the American public by saying that such drilling would significantly lower prices. Yet amid the partisan bomb-throwing over America’s future energy policy, Washington is actually making a rare effort to forge a compromise.

Over the summer a group of five GOP and five Democratic senators, dubbed the Gang of 10, hammered out a comprehensive energy proposal. And now, after taking withering heat from both left and right, the idea is gaining support. Three more senators from each party have officially signed on, and the proposal is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate when Congress returns from the current recess. “We’ve seen the tide gradually turn,” says Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who began the effort with a visit in June to Senate colleague Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). “Thank goodness there are some people willing to work across the aisle.”

The proposal contains some items on the Republican wish list, such as opening areas of the Outer Continental Shelf to drilling and boosting nuclear power. The Democrats get incentives for wind, solar, and other renewables along with energy efficiency measures—and pay for much of the projected $84 billion cost by eliminating tax breaks on the oil and gas industry. “Some environmentalists have serious problems with it, but it’s actually a pretty good deal,” says Joseph J. Romm, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank, and a top Energy Dept. official in the Clinton Administration.

As the compromise gains momentum, it is creating dilemmas for both parties. There are plenty of reasons to be against it. For one, John McCain’s choice for running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, is a strong advocate of opening up new areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the oil and gas industry. Polls also show that Republicans are getting a major boost by blaming Democrats for blocking increases in oil and gas supplies, so why would they give up their best campaign issue? “One man knows we must now drill more in America and rescue our family budgets:…McCain,” says one ad for the GOP Presidential candidate, which accuses Democratic rival Barack Obama of standing in the way.

There are citics of the plan on the left and the right. Environmentalists don’t like any drilling, while conservatives worry that the compromise will deprive McCain of his best campaign issue. Rush Limbaugh argued that the compromise would “cut the knees off of Senator McCain.”

From a policy point of view, the compromise makes sense. We can’t let the incentives for wind and solar expire, and we need to promote investment in more alternative energy as soon as possible. I don’t think drilling will have a material impact on our future energy needs, but permitting drilling in exchange for the concessions on alternative energy makes sense to me. The bill also repeals tax breaks for the oil companies.

From a political point of view, this could be a benefit for Obama. He has already announced he supports the basic framework of the proposal, while McCain has not yet signed on. It permits Obama to argue that he can compromise on drilling, while also neutralizing a campaign issue. McCain would be in a tough spot if he opposes the bill, since it would mean he voted against drilling AND alternative fuels.

Either way, a compromise is needed. I hope something passes.

The Big Oil Ticket

John McCain has paid lip service to being a “green” candidates, despite his numerous votes in that past against alternative energy. Now he’s given up the charade by picking Sarah Palin as his VP.

It’s crazy for the United States to be subsidizing oil and sending billions of dollars overseas for our energy. Of course we can’t solve this overnight with renewable energies, but investment in this area will spur economic development and over time will reduce our dependency on oil.

Tom Friedman takes on McCain:

I am not against a limited expansion of off-shore drilling now. But it is a complete sideshow. By constantly pounding into voters that his energy focus is to “drill, drill, drill,” McCain is diverting attention from what should be one of the central issues in this election: who has the better plan to promote massive innovation around clean power technologies and energy efficiency.

Why? Because renewable energy technologies — what I call “E.T.” — are going to constitute the next great global industry. They will rival and probably surpass “I.T.” — information technology. The country that spawns the most E.T. companies will enjoy more economic power, strategic advantage and rising standards of living. We need to make sure that is America. Big oil and OPEC want to make sure it is not.

Palin’s nomination for vice president and her desire to allow drilling in the Alaskan wilderness “reminded me of a lunch I had three and half years ago with one of the Russian trade attachés,” global trade consultant Edward Goldberg said to me. “After much wine, this gentleman told me that his country was very pleased that the Bush administration wanted to drill in the Alaskan wilderness. In his opinion, the amount of product one could actually derive from there was negligible in terms of needs. However, it signified that the Bush administration was not planning to do anything to create alternative energy, which of course would threaten the economic growth of Russia.”

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