Memo to the President-elect: Environmental responsibility and economic revitalization go hand-in-hand

No matter their political affiliation, most people who have an opinion about what President-elect Barack Obama should do first after he’s sworn into office point to the country’s economic identity crisis as his first order of business.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

No matter their political affiliation, most people who have an opinion about what President-elect Barack Obama should do first after he’s sworn into office point to the country’s economic identity crisis as his first order of business.

And given how much the latest jobs report rattled the stock market earlier this week, it would behoove President Obama’s administration to carefully consider strategies that support the creation of new types of jobs -- ones that serve an ulterior motive for his environmental agenda.

The City of San Jose, California, is just one community that has taken clear steps to position green-tech employment as a major component of its revitalization and to stave off the impact that the loss of traditional jobs might create. Over the past year, the city has doubled the number of clean-tech jobs to more than 3,000; its recent deal with Tesla Motors will also bring another 1,000 positions into the area. Among the companies that are located in the area are Underwriters Laboratories (which will locate its new solar certification and testing facility there), Phillips Lumileds, Echelon, SunPower, Stion, Solopower, Nanosolar, Sopogy, BioFuelBox, Borgata Recycling, Solexant, SunWize and Fat Spaniel.

San Jose also is allied with the California Clean Tech Open and will offer office space in the city to the top 12 competitors from this year’s competition. Here's some additional coverage from the bloggers at Treehugger.

If you’d like to consider the economic impact of cleantech jobs or, heck, if you’re in the market for a career change, there have been at least several reports out in the past year that I’ve been blogging for GreenTech Pastures that analyze the potential impact that the creation of so-called cleantech or green collar jobs might have on the economy.

In early October, Clean Edge Research and Climate Solutions released the most compelling and thorough analysis I’ve seen yet of how clean-tech development has the potential to change a given region of the country. The report, “Carbon-Free Prosperity 2025," examines the possibilities in Oregon and Washington for job creation over the next 17 years. Sponsors of the research included K&L | Gates, Ecoworks Foundation, Vulcan (the Paul Allen company), The Energy Foundation, The Lemelson Foundation and Pivotal Investments.

The report’s high-level findings are pretty aggressive: Clean Edge believes, as an example, that the region has the potential to source 75 percent of its energy from carbon-free sources by 2025, compared with 62 percent now. Moreover, it predicts the creation of between 41,000 (moderate projection) and 63,000 (aggressive forecast) new jobs that are related to clean or green-tech.

It’s sort of ironic, given the reputation of these states for above-average precipitation, that solar manufacturing be among the leading potential sources of new jobs. Clean Edge predicts (moderately) that the job base for solar will grow from 2,000 in 2010 to 14,000-plus in 2025. Here are the other four potential sources of new employment:

- Green building design (4,200 jobs by 2010, 13,000 by 2025) - Wind power development (3,000 by 2010, 4,500 by 2025) - Sustainable bioenergy (3,200 by 2010, 7,000 by 2025) - Smart grid (1,500 by 2010, 2,600 by 2025)

What I like most about this research is that Carbon-Free Prosperity 2025 actually lays out a 10-point plan that it suggests will be needed to support these potential employment levels. Those 10 points are:

1. Put a price on carbon (maybe even a tax like the one that British Columbia adopted last February) 2. Boost renewable portfolio standards for individual states, which dictate the the percentage of a state’s electricity that needs to come from renewable sources. As an example of what’s meant here: California has committed to a portfolio made up of 20 percent in renewables by 2010, with a goal to reach 33 percent by 2020. 3. Adopt low-carbon fuel standards. 4. Establish green building codes. 5. Encourage regional cooperation so that neighboring states are supporting each other’s strategies. 6. Create public funding options that support clean tech investments. 7. Adopt tax credits for development activities related to renewable energy. 8. Start an appropriate workforce development program to build new skills. 9. Adjust government procurement standards to support clean tech. 10. Embrace incentives that encourage the build out of smart grids and distribution systems.

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