The Future of Electricity
Jobs for a green economy
“Green collar” jobs are a key selling point in plans to change America’s energy habits. Using more renewable energy and improving energy efficiency will require plenty of workers.
Governor Beshear’s new energy plan, spelled out in a detailed report called Intelligent Energy Choices for Kentucky’s Energy Future, boldly states that 30,000 to 40,000 new Kentucky jobs could be providing paychecks by the year 2025 as the Bluegrass State’s energy mix becomes more diversified.
Where will all these new jobs be?
According to Beshear’s report, 3,500 jobs could open up when coal-to-liquid fuel production becomes a reality. Plus 1,700 more jobs when coal-to-gas production moves out of the laboratory into the mainstream. Another 1,800 jobs could be available when using biomass as a fuel becomes more common.
Other predictions include 1,000 jobs in assorted smaller renewable energy industries such as solar and wind. Plus more than 4,000 jobs connected to nuclear power plants—a possibility if the Kentucky Legislature lifts the state’s ban on nuclear power plants.
That brings the predicted total for the year 2025 to a little more than 12,000 jobs.
Green jobs today
The rest of the increase in jobs is supposed to occur from jobs that are not involved directly in the production of energy but help support energy businesses. That can include anything from truck drivers who bring raw materials to a biofuels processing plant to a laundry service that cleans workers’ uniforms—green collars or not.
But many Kentuckians won’t have to wait 16 years for a new “green” paycheck. New jobs, as well as old jobs with new skills being added, are already changing the way some Kentuckians earn a living.
Improving energy efficiency in homes and other buildings tops the list of green jobs available right now. This includes jobs constructing new buildings as well as jobs for workers who know how to modify existing buildings.
Bill Hodges, one of the owners of Hodges and Heathman Properties, LLC, a Lexington-based building and remodeling company, recently earned Certified Green Professional status. That means he’s studied the latest ideas about making buildings energy efficient, passed a rigorous test, and knows how to put new concepts into practice in real situations.
Hodges also chairs Green Build Kentucky, a program available through the Home Builders Association of Kentucky. Green Build Kentucky promotes energy efficiency and green building practices among builders, subcontractors, suppliers, and lenders throughout the state. Green Build Kentucky helps educate building pros through training sessions around the state taught by the University of Kentucky’s Dr. Robert Fehr, Extension Service professor in the biosystems and agricultural engineering department.
Hodges says, “The biggest single market for energy efficiency is in retrofitting older homes. This has created a need for people who are trained to do detailed energy audits, and for people who can do the work to improve energy efficiency in buildings. This includes people who can install replacement windows and add insulation, and people who know how to seal heating and air-conditioning ducts to prevent leaks.” Interest in these new techniques means that carpenters, bricklayers, heating and air conditioning pros, as well as architects and draftsmen, are learning new, greener ways to do existing jobs.
Energy efficiency training
Ann Randolph, policy advisor for Kentucky’s Department of Energy Development and Independence, plans to improve an existing job database with details about all kinds of energy- and environment-related jobs within the state. Some statistics are easy to find, such as the 17,000 known jobs in coal mining. Coal is the fuel that produces 90 percent of the electricity generated in our state, and those energy jobs are vital to the state’s economy.
Tracking down all the other energy jobs, from utility company workers to insulation installers, may be much harder.
Randolph says, “We need more complete data about the energy jobs we already have, plus we hope to develop lists of new job opportunities as they become available.” That’s why officials throughout state government are talking with employers about what job openings they have today and what they expect in the near future.
Randolph says, “As we understand what jobs are needed immediately, we can better assist our educational institutions in developing the appropriate training programs and curriculum, and help entice job seekers into corresponding training programs to fill these jobs.” State government agencies are stepping up efforts to publicize green jobs listings on their various Web sites.
Just listing job openings isn’t enough. Job seekers will need specialized knowledge for many energy jobs. Developing such a skilled—and greener—work force is intensifying the existing three-way conversation among state government, businesses, and schools within Kentucky.
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System, a consortium of 16 technical community colleges located on 67 campuses across the state, has years of experience matching course offerings with the kinds of training that businesses in different regions of the state require.
Keith Stephens, director of sponsored projects and contracts at KCTCS, says, “Our chancellor, Dr. Keith Bird, has been working very closely with Kentucky’s Energy Secretary Dr. Len Peters, as well as the faculty at UK and other colleges and universities to develop curriculum to provide personnel to do all the new jobs described in the governor’s energy plan.”
KCTCS courses of study include short-term certificate programs, two-year degree programs, and classes that provide the foundation for transfer to a four-year degree program. Some KCTCS programs provide training for jobs that are open right now, while others are geared toward the new energy jobs that should become available within a few years.
As clean coal technology has become more widespread throughout the industry, from mining processes to preparing the coal for use in power plants, KCTCS has increased the number of classes it offers through its Kentucky Coal Academy.
The many shades of green jobs
Some of the new green energy jobs will be behind-the-scenes office work that supports more active jobs. New accounting careers are emerging in measuring greenhouse gas emissions, calculating energy use and predicting energy savings, and sorting through rules about tax credits for energy efficiency improvements.
While established industries become greener, entirely new industries are developing with very different needs.
Stephens says, “The big thing in the future is going to be battery technology and fuel cells, so we plan to offer a course called ‘introduction to fuel cells.’” Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville already has a program to train automotive service technicians to maintain and repair hybrid electric vehicles.
New energy technologies require two kinds of knowledge. Some KCTCS courses will provide background details about operating standards and procedures and the new laws that govern a particular energy field. Other courses will provide the practical skills, such as how to use innovative measuring equipment, as well as how new design principles can best be applied in new work environments.
A clear trend that’s emerging along with the prospects for these new green collar jobs is an increasing need for Kentuckians to have a very good understanding in four key areas. These vital subject areas are science, technology, engineering, and math, often shortened to the acronym STEM. Kentucky’s K-12 teachers and school administrators are finding new ways to help students move beyond the basics into more detailed studies.
Sparking young Kentuckians’ interest in STEM subject areas—with a clear connection to future careers—is also becoming more important than ever before. Businesses are stepping up their efforts to connect directly with students. The Kentucky Construction Career Choice Council (K4C) holds an annual Career Day to talk with students. Last year’s event at the Shelby County Fairgrounds attracted more than 2,000 high school students from around the state for hands-on demos. Teens met and talked with Green Build Kentucky participants and saw how classroom lessons in chemistry and physics labs can be put to use in the real world of work.
Green Build Kentucky’s Hodges says, “Individual members of the Home Builders Association of Kentucky also volunteer their time in their local communities to judge science fairs, and to speak at schools and technical colleges about green building and careers.”
“As the energy and environment sectors evolve and adopt new technologies,” Randolph says, “collaborations among academia, industry, and government will be crucial to developing our state’s work force in a timely manner.”
Next month: Energy Efficient Schools
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: ENERGY CAREER INFO
For links to energy career information in Kentucky, and to download Green Jobs: A Pathway to a Strong Middle Class, a report of the U.S. vice president’s Middle Class Task Force, go to the KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE that goes with this month's THE FUTURE OF ELECTRICITY column.