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Getting Real

Local and regional leaders are turning aspirations of job growth in sustainable industries a reality.

The Pacific Coast Collaborative, an organization of four U.S. governors and a Canadian provincial premier, on March 13th sent a press release announcing "West Coast leaders launch plan to create a million new jobs by 2020."

"The 2012 West Coast Action Plan on Jobs outlines a series of measurable commitments by each jurisdiction for retrofitting state-owned buildings, fleet purchasing of advanced technology vehicles, and creating world-class energy standards to incentivize private sector leadership and advanced manufacturing."

To understand whether this goal is realistic we need to look at the political and physical tectonic forces influencing the national regional and local agendas. 

It is reasonable to assume that any energy strategy coming from the Federal level will be skewed in favor of fossil fuels. Why? And why does it matter? 

According to the Senate Office of Public Records, the Energy/Natural Resources Industry lobbying and campaign expenditures between 2003 to 2010 expanded significantly. In 2010, the industry spent $262 million in campaign contributions (this was before the Supreme Court decision that corporations could make unlimited contributions to campaigns). More importantly, the industry in the same time period spent ten times that amount, as much as $2.3 billion, on lobbying.

A brief article by Bill McKibben in the Winter edition of Justice Rising shows a graph illustrating the the lobbying versus campaign expenditures of the Energy/Natural Resources industry.

The data comes from the Senate Office of Public Records and was compiled by Open Secrets.

The resistance to any lasting or meaningful positive change in energy policy at the Federal level means that change can only come from the regional and local levels. It matters that the Federal Government resists change because without the financial backing and incentives that the Federal Government can provide, the many entrepreneurs working to develop clean alternatives are competing against well established private industries that are subsidized through tax preferences, direct federal spending, and uncompensated environmental damage.

However, the ability of Western regional organizations to influence economic and environmental policy should not be underestimated. The Pacific Coast Collaborative quoted earlier, an organization that includes Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia, and Governors Sean Parnell of Alaska, Christine Gregoire of Washington, John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Edmund G. Brown Jr. of California developed a regional collaborative energy strategy that promotes economic development, energy and environmental conservation. Since establishing"Vision 2030," first unveiled in 2010, the collaborative has continued to work to set short and long term goals in support of the mission of the organization.

The collaborative stated: "Over the next twenty years, the jurisdictions along North America's Pacific Coast are poised to emerge as a mega-region and global economic power-house driven by innovation, energy, geographic location, and sustainable resource management, attracting new jobs and investment while enhancing an already unparalleled quality of life."

A very ambitious statement given the depressed state of the economy at the time, but a vision that provided the framework for the 2012 Washington State Energy Strategy: "we want an energy strategy that promotes clean job growth, competitive prices and lower greenhouse gas emissions."

There is reason to believe that the Pacific Coast Collaborative is on the right track. "Across the country, job creation rates in the clean economy are well above those for other shrinking sectors of the economy. Clean economy jobs pay better and have proven to be more resilient to the downturn of the Great Recession. In Washington, from 2007-2010, the annual growth rate for all jobs dropped, while the growth rate for clean economy jobs remained even. From 2003-2010, the growth of clean economy jobs in Washington increased at a rate of 2.8% compared to only a 0.7% rate of growth for all jobs. The estimated median wage in Washington's clean economy is $46,457. This compares to $43,322 for all jobs in Washington." (Source Pacific Coast Collaborative Washington statistics report)

The "2012 West Coast Action Plan on Jobs" released by the Pacific Coast Collaborative address three major areas in accelerating regional job creation:

  1. Energy efficiency improvements
  2. Leveraging clean transportation
  3. Protecting jobs and the economy from climate change risks

Key components include innovative financing options, accelerating adoption of clean technology both in transportation and the built environment in the public sector, sharing best practices, educating the public and enhancing emergency preparedness, as informed by the latest climate change research. Some of the specific actions called for include making it possible for "homeowners to pay for energy efficiency and/or renewable energy upgrades with loan terms that align their payments will bill savings."

Even without that kind of financing available, low-income Weatherization programs through Washington State's Department of Commerce have weatherized nearly 70,000 low-income households since 1993. Over 13,000 households were upgraded during the recession, creating or retaining 180 jobs and supporting another 320. For every weatherization dollar spent, $3 is added to the economy.

Other successes include the use of the Jobs Act funded through Washington's 2010 Supplemental Capital Budget and the grants from the Department of Commerce the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to make K-12 schools more energy efficient. More than 1,100 family wage jobs were created, the majority in the construction industry.

Financing that allowed homeowners to use energy savings to pay for the loans that made the upgrades possible, coupled with good public education of the program would increase the number of jobs in the construction industry even further.

Let's not forget the influence our educational institutions, local non-profits and businesses have in helping or hindering our economic and environmental progress.

On a recent night at Shoreline Community College representatives from the college's Clean Energy Technology Program were on hand to announce the launch of the Community Solar Project.

"The Community Solar Project is a collaboration between Shoreline Community College's Clean Energy Technology Program, the Shoreline Community College Student Chapter of the American Solar Energy Society, participating residential and commercial property owners in King and Snohomish Counties, Silicon Energy, LLC, qualified electrical contractors holding Certified Energy Practitioner (CEP) and North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), and are compliant with the Davis-Bacon Act (payment of prevailing wages), the Puget Sound Co-operative Credit Union, and Newport Partners."

In this venture participating students gain real world experience in the design of residential and commercial solar energy projects. It provides local homeowners with high quality energy solutions at affordable prices and provides investors the opportunity to buy in to a community solar project on public property with a healthy return on investment.

Prices to homeowners are kept low because the solar modules, inverters, and miscellaneous solar related hardware from Silicon Energy are provided at wholesale cost. This is particularly a good deal because Silicon Energy solar modules are the only solar modules made with a Class A fire rating. Testing for durability showed the modules would still function after 80 years.

According to the press release, "With current incentives, a carefully planned solar electric project can actually make money for the homeowner and investors in larger projects."

This program, because of the low cost to homeowners and the investment potential for residential and community solar will drive demand for more solar. Artisan Electric, one of the partners in the Community Solar Program said during their presentation during the Community Solar roll out that almost 100% of the work they are currently hired to do is for design and installation of solar compared to a couple years ago when solar installations made up a small fraction of their contract work.

So for North King and Snohomish County this is one program that is poised to create more jobs in the solar industry.

Expect other good developments to come out of an alliance between industry and Shoreline Community College. On March 8, 2012 the college hosted the NC3 industry/education roundtable.

"The roundtable was part of a weeklong 'train the trainer' seminar on diagnostics and torque for the transportation and energy industry sectors. The seminar was sponsored by NC3 and Snap-on Tools and hosted by Shoreline Community College."

Shoreline has programs in automotive technology and computer-numeric controlled (CNC) machining, both with employment placements rates for graduates of virtually 100 percent. Automotive graduates go to work at local new car dealers and other service firms while the CNC graduates are moving into the aerospace industry.

Shoreline Community College's collaboration with industry and the financial sector is an example of ground-level ways that communities are helping to fulfill what Pacific Coast Collaborative articulated in their "Vision 2030."

Such shining examples of creating Green Jobs are not limited to Shoreline. The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) is supporting local economic growth in Bellingham. Its membership, now over 700 locally owned businesses, "has led Bellingham in becoming the nation's top EPA-certified green power community, a leader in green building, in fostering hundreds of new relationships between farmers and food buyers and shifting the purchasing behavior of 3 in 5 households toward choosing independent retailers and services whenever possible."

In Port Townsend, small businesses have access to low interest loans from "Local Investing Opportunities Network (LION), a community of local investors who provide small loans to local businesses. In this model loans are made the way they were done before commercial financial markets existed. "Every one of these investments we've made – we have connections to the company beyond the financial connection," said Earll Murman speaking with a reporter for the Port Townsend Leader.

LION grew out of an informal network of investors and through the sustainable movement. Before LION, people invested in an unorganized and uncoordinated way. "LION formalized with eight people in 2008. Today there are more than 50 investors who have signed up to receive queries from businesses looking for loans."

These are examples of local communities taking stock of what their resources and challenges are, networking between business and those resources to find creative ways to support the work force, create jobs, and foster a healthy environment.

It is this kind of action that is needed in every community if "Vision 2030" is to be achieved.

So even as the Federal Government, under the influence of fossil fuel lobbies, remains wedded to the energy status quo, individuals and organizations at the local and regional levels are empowered to set a new standard for job creation and environmental stewardship, turning aspirations into reality.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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