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.

Hitting the ground running

The Washington Post highlights some of the immediate actions we can expect from Barack Obama’s administration. Items like stem-cell research and environmental regulations top the list.

Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.

A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration. The team is now consulting with liberal advocacy groups, Capitol Hill staffers and potential agency chiefs to prioritize those they regard as the most onerous or ideologically offensive, said a top transition official who was not permitted to speak on the record about the inner workings of the transition.

In some instances, Obama would be quickly delivering on promises he made during his two-year campaign, while in others he would be embracing Clinton-era policies upended by President Bush during his eight years in office.

“The kind of regulations they are looking at” are those imposed by Bush for “overtly political” reasons, in pursuit of what Democrats say was a partisan Republican agenda, said Dan Mendelson, a former associate administrator for health in the Clinton administration’s Office of Management and Budget. The list of executive orders targeted by Obama’s team could well get longer in the coming days, as Bush’s appointees rush to enact a number of last-minute policies in an effort to extend his legacy.

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.

John McCain and water rights – another gaffe

The more John McCain speaks, the more he gets into trouble. His command of the issues is terrible, and his recollection of his own positions is sometimes even worse.

His campaign has been “clarifying” McCain’s stated positions on a regular basis. The latest involves water rights in Colorado, which could spell trouble for McCain in an important swing state.

Arizona Sen. John McCain’s call for renegotiating how much water some Western states can pull from the Colorado River has a set off quite a stir in Colorado, an up-for-grabs swing state that next week plays host to the Democratic National Convention.

“Over my cold, dead, political carcass,” said Republican Bob Schaffer, who is running against Democratic Rep. Mark Udall to replace retiring Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, offering a sentiment widely shared in Colorado and across ideological lines.

In the arid West, water is an explosive issue. Political fortunes have been lost because of it, and ranchers occasionally shot and killed. As a local saying has it, “Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting.”

McCain, a proud Westerner, triggered the latest round of fighting when he told The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain last Friday that “the compact that is in effect, obviously, needs to be renegotiated over time amongst the interested parties” — which was widely understood in Colorado as a process that would end up redistributing more of the river’s “liquid gold” downstream.

The Republican was forced to backtrack Wednesday, writing a letter to Allard saying, “Let me be clear that I do not advocate renegotiation of the compact.”

But the issue is not likely to go away soon. Democrats Udall, Gov. Bill Ritter and Sen. Ken Salazar are expected to blast McCain in a press conference today. In an interview Wednesday, Salazar said McCain’s remarks showed that he didn’t understand the issue’s importance. “There’s nothing more fundamental to the West than water.”

He may have just handed Colorado to Obama.

Google drills for geothermal energy

While John McCain pushes for offshore oil drilling, Google.org is investing in ground-breaking technology to develop geothermal energy.

Google on Tuesday took the drilling debate in a different direction – announcing that Google.org is investing nearly $11 million in technology to expand the nation’s geothermal reserves. That’s more than the U.S. government is spending on geothermal projects this year.

Traditional geothermal power plants, like those built by Calpine (CPN) in Northern California, sit atop reserves of naturally occurring steam or hot water that can be tapped to drive electricity-generating turbines. So-called Enhanced Geothermal Systems, or EGS, hope to tap geothermal energy in any location by drilling deep underground to fracture “hot rocks” and then pump them with water to create steam that can be used in a power plant. The great potential, of course, would be to liberate the Midwest and South from their dependence on coal-fired power plants.

“While the U.S. debates drilling in the ocean for oil, we are focused on drilling for renewable energy – and lots of it – right beneath our feet,” Google.org said in a statement, citing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that estimates the accessible heat below the U.S. represents more than 2,500 times the nation’s annual energy consumption.

It’s depressing, though not surprising, to learn that Google is investing more than our own government in trying to develop this energy source. More information on Google’s program can be found here.

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