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American workers will power the renewables revolution. Let’s make sure they have the skills to succeed

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You won’t see President Trump tweet this, but it’s a fact that jobs in solar energy outnumber those in coal. According to the Department of Energy’s 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, the solar industry employs over 373,000 workers, more than double the number employed by coal. The Department of Labor projects that the two fastest growing jobs through 2026 will be solar installer and wind turbine service technician. Jobs in fossil fuels don’t even crack the top twenty. While it’s true that the number of coal-mining jobs has grown slightly since President Trump took office, demand for coal in the electricity sector through 2050 is expected to remain flat. Increased coal exports, which sustained the industry in 2017, are not expected to continue in 2018.

The 2018 government funding bill is rightly celebrated by clean energy advocates for beating back dramatic cuts proposed by the Trump administration to programs like ARPA-E and DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, but there has been little mention of dedicated, direct funding to help train workers. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s recent $105.5 million grant-funding announcement through the Solar Energy Technologies Office includes only $8.5 million for solar workforce-development grants. The overwhelming majority of the funding is headed to high-tech R&D and early-stage development projects, great for white-collar workers but not so much for the blue-collar men and women to whom President Trump has made so many promises.

{mosads}As Congress continues working on Fiscal Year 2019 funding levels, clean energy advocates and policymakers would do well to build upon the great success of 2018 by funding job-training programs to help meet our clean energy goals and secure global leadership in these industries.

One place to start is offshore-wind job training. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, our nation’s offshore wind potential is nearly double the nation’s total electricity use. It’s also an energy resource available to nearly every coastline in the country, including the Great Lakes.

Given the enormous potential, it would be reckless of federal policy makers to rely on the promises of private-sector wind developers and the states to provide the lion’s share of resources needed for workforce training. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recently told the crowd at an offshore wind conference in Princeton, New Jersey that offshore wind has more growth potential than any other American energy resource. To realize this enormous potential, the federal government needs to commit real dollars to job-training programs. Federal agencies don’t need to start from scratch as states have already done much of the early legwork. New York’s Master Offshore Wind Plan includes a comprehensive analysis of worker-training opportunities across manufacturing, installation, and operation of offshore wind projects. It also identifies specific training and certification requirements that need to be easily accessible to those pursuing a career in this industry.

Massachusetts also recently released their 2018 Offshore Wind Workforce Assessment, which identifies what types of workforce training and education programs are needed to fill offshore wind jobs. Existing partnerships between colleges, universities, labor unions, and nonprofits are well positioned to leverage federal dollars for these workforce training and certification needs. Injecting federal dollars presents the best opportunity to produce the workers we need to develop our offshore wind resources and send more carbon-free electricity to the grid.

It is easy for policy makers to get distracted by the latest clean energy science and engineering breakthroughs, and these programs rightfully merit strong support from federal taxpayers. But we should never forget that working-class people are the ones who will eventually bring these breakthroughs from the research lab into our homes and businesses. Let’s make sure they have the skills to get the job done.

Becky Cairns is a Fellow with the Clean Energy Leadership Institute.

Tags Donald Trump Rick Perry Ryan Zinke

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