Green Energy Jobs

April 28th, 2010

Recently, Congress examined federal policy toward energy production. Specifically, lawmakers debated the effectiveness of U.S. tax policy in promoting exploration and advancement of both new and traditional energy sources. While federal legislators deliberate how best to promote effective development of all energy sources, a few state officials will be examining similar questions.

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In Ohio, for example, the state legislature will be putting certain energy companies to a test. The wind and solar industries will be asked to demonstrate whether they are able to create jobs that will be available to all segments of the American population, not just those who are highly educated, highly skilled, or advantageously connected.

The Ohio legislature’s lower house set both employment targets and contracting targets aimed at segments where the unemployment is highest and where business development is the lowest. House Bill 464 calls for a minority hiring target of 5% and a minority contracting target of 10% for the development, construction and operation of wind and solar projects in the state. Its companion legislation, Senate Bill 232, does not yet include similar language.

This debate’s significance stems, in part, from the President’s long expressed expectation that development and growth of the wind industry, the overall renewable energy industry, and the general development of a green economy will provide good paying jobs for Americans. Yet, our leaders have yet to seriously address whether that job growth will benefit African Americans and Latinos.

Reality is that these initiatives are not producing wealth or jobs for minority communities to the same degree that traditional energy sources have in the past.

Look again at the Buckeye State. If HB 464’s minority hiring and contracting target provisions endure further negotiations between the upper and lower houses, it will be the first time that any state has officially recognized that the wind industry is nearly devoid of any minority participation. Indeed, minority hiring and minority contracting that has resulted from wind energy’s remarkable growth across the country – in California, Montana, Colorado, Texas, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New York, Kansas, Minnesota, North and South Dakota – is very difficult to quantify with any degree of confidence. If available anecdotal information represents even a fraction of the larger picture, its minority employment is virtually non-existent.

The absence of minority participation in the wind industry may be no one’s fault, merely an extension of the historical and geographical realities that exist in this nation. It may well be that the wind blows best where the minority populations are the smallest, or in the parts of states where minority persons neither reside nor own property. In the case of Montana, Iowa, Colorado, and Kansas, this is possible. But in Texas, New York, Pennsylvania – it’s highly unlikely such geographic disparity explains the problem.

Focusing once again on Ohio, the minority population is nearly 17%. And the unemployment rate in the state’s minority communities is predicted to top 20% by the third quarter of this year. Given these facts, the 5% minority hiring target of HB 464 would appear to be a rather modest expectation. A minority hiring target set at less than one third of the minority population level in a state where the minority unemployment rate is nearly twice the overall national rate should be quite easy to achieve. In fact, one would expect it to occur naturally based on simple mathematics.

Yet, if just 5% of the wind industry workforce in Ohio were to come from minority communities, including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans or Native Americans, the state’s minority employment in this industry would be several times larger than in any other state in these United States. That reality tells me that the status quo is failing our President’s test.

Let’s hope that legislators in the U.S. Congress and in states where similar disparities exist begin implementing this test as well. “Green” jobs will be most helpful if they are consistent with our national ideals of fairness and equality of opportunity. “Green” jobs will not be helpful if they further exacerbate our already intractable problems of racial and ethnic economic disparity.

Understanding the Politics and the Lessons Learned

April 21st, 2010

On March 31, 2010 President Obama acted to lift the ban on the exploration of offshore oil and gas and raised the possibility of the development of those resources off the east coast and in the eastern Gulf. Since that time many of the Washington pundits have sought to understand the importance of this action and to define what we in the energy business need to learn from this policy statement. Many of you will recall that nearly a month ago we shared that the administration would be taking action to support the development of off-shore energy resources.

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From our perspective, the lessons to be learned are pretty clear. First we should understand that the President, although clearly recognizing our energy interdependence, is firmly committed to moving this nation toward greater energy independence in the areas of oil and gas. The President is also clear that this nation and this world will need to look to the fossil fuels for the majority of energy needs for many, many years to come. He is working both a near term strategy, a mid-term strategy, and a long term strategy; seeking the development of alternative fuels, insuring a sufficient supply of traditional fuels, and encouraging the research and technology needed for the development of a sustainable, diverse, clean energy portfolio.
The second thing that we should learn is that the President is willing to do what it takes to get climate change legislation passed. He said that he would reach out to the other party to have bipartisan support for an energy/climate change bill. By opening up off shore drilling, he has invited the members of the loyal opposition to join in the development of a new energy bill for the Nation.

This seems to have worked, and we are expecting to have a new, bipartisan bill introduced before the end of this month. If and when this new bill is available, I would strongly recommend that every AABE member who is interested in having a say in this most important legislation read as much of it as you can and share any thoughts, concerns, ideas, perceptions, or desires with each other, the Legislative and Public Policy Committee, and your Congressional representatives. The AABE has always aspired to be an energy policy voice for the minority communities. This is our best chance to fulfill that aspiration and ensure that our communities aren’t negatively impacted by national energy policy.

In about a month, the 33rd National Conference “People. Profit. Planet. An Inclusive Approach to a Bright Reliable Energy Future” will be in Columbus, Ohio. With climate change legislation on the horizon, this year’s “Legislative Crossfire” will be full of thought provoking ideas and robust discussion. Nationally recognized experts will be in attendance and eager to hear your thoughts on this legislation, legislation that will govern our industry and much of our nation for many years to come. It is time for AABE to step up to the plate.

The “Legislative Crossfire” session will not be the only event that should grab your attention. Every hour of every day will be filled with discussions of subjects, and issues and opportunities that these dynamic shifts in the energy industry are bringing forward. If you want to understand a bit more about the “Smart Grid”, about “Green Technologies”, about climate Change , about how these developments will impact your company, your job, your community then mark your calendar for May 19-21, 2010. This will be a conference not to be missed.

On March 22, the College of Engineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University honored the American Association of Blacks in Energy in a dinner ceremony in Greensboro. The award reads in part “In recognition of your world-class leadership in promoting and celebrating the achievements of Black Energy Professionals and for your continued efforts and contributions…” I want to let the AABE membership know just how grateful I am for the incredible growth in our organization’s reputation and stature which has come as a result of the myriad actions undertaken by our individual members to share AABE’s mission and message and with their associates and others in this broad and diverse industry. Thank you. Across this country and around the world, this association is known and respected for the abilities and capabilities of its outstanding membership. More and more, others are looking to AABE for its leadership and its guidance. “For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required.” (Luke 12:48)

We can do this!