Biden injects hope in renewable energy supporters
President Joe Biden’s renewable energy push is injecting hope in supporters but major challenges loom, including the coronavirus pandemic and the restoration of hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. (March 3)
As a senior at Mescalero Apache School near Ruidoso, Madisyn Yuzos is already training for a career in the wind power industry.
Her school offered a wind technology program allowing Yuzos to begin learning about the industry as New Mexico’s leaders sought to transition the state’s energy economy away from a singular reliance on oil and gas.
“I honestly didn’t know much about it at first. I just decided to take the opportunity and make the most of it and see if it was a potential career for me,” Yuzos said. “I don’t think you’d ever get bored this career field. I just think it’s awesome. There’s a lot of career opportunities that can come from it.”
Renewable energy’s growth in New Mexico could mean jobs as oil and gas workers displaced by the state’s transition to lower-carbon sources of power could be retrained to work in sectors like wind and solar.
Industry leaders argued working in clean energy could soon become as lucrative as fossil fuels, during a virtual panel discussion held Tuesday by Powering New Mexico, a renewable energy advocacy group and subsidiary of the American Clean Power Association.
A study from advocacy group E2, which represents 11,000 business leaders nationwide and advocate for environmental policies in economic regulations showed the average wage for renewable energy jobs in New Mexico was about $18.95 an hour, about 11.7 percent higher than state’s median wage.
In New Mexico, “clean energy” fields accounted for 11,116 total jobs in areas like energy efficiency or renewable power generation.
There were 4,094 jobs in wind and solar, the study read, with almost 20 percent of clean energy workforce employed in renewable energy.
These jobs would also see skills from the oilfield transfer in areas like construction and welding, said Susan Nedell, field advocate for E2, but also could entail less work-intensive fields as in professional services.
Of the clean energy jobs reported by the study, 54 percent were in construction and 26 percent were in professional services.
“Most people when they think of clean energy, they think about wind and solar,” she said. “But clean energy jobs are much more diverse from that. These are not just red state or blue state jobs. They are not just blue collar or white collar jobs.”
At Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, students are being trained in an unique wind technology program that Professor Andy Swapp said is ever-evolving as the technology is developed and improved, but hands-on instruction is essential to a successful program.
“Schools have grown across the U.S. but there’s still only a few that have wind turbine they can actually climb. There is nothing like climbing a wind turbine,” Swapp said. “Training has changed quite a bit, but safety has changed a lot as well. It’s a good, steady job. We’ve had some displaced oilfield workers, some construction workers.”
Ryan Centerwell, chief executive officer of Affordable Solar, an Albuquerque-based solar company, said his company is now focused on developing storage for the power generated by solar installations and recently embarked on an apprenticeship program to begin training the needed workforce.
Storage is the focus, he said, as power sources like wind and solar are intermittent and as demand grows, electricity will need to be stockpiled.
And with such a growing need, he said the industry and earnings for workers are also growing quickly.
Workers in the solar industry could expect an up to 60 percent increase in earnings in the first few years of their employment, Centerwell said, and jobs could soon approve the wages of the oilfield.
“There’s a lot of talk about displaced workers and retraining workers and the parallel earnings,” Centerwell said. “But as you’re learning new skills, and moving into a such a growing industry, wage growth happens very quickly.”
Amy Miller of the North American Intelligent Manufacturing Initiative, a group that works to recruit more technology-based jobs to the U.S. said clean energy jobs posed growing opportunities for college students are workers looking retrain and shift sectors.
She said many of the manufacturing jobs are overseas, but New Mexico should work to bring those jobs into the U.S. where local communities can benefit even more from the power generating installations, they’re likely to host in increasing numbers.
“We’ve got to help young people understand what the opportunities in the industry and set up them up with the right trainings so they can stay in their communities in New Mexico and really benefit from this change in our economy,” Miller said.
“I don’t think there is one solution. Every source of energy is going to have some environmental impact. We need to look at all possible solutions to reduce greenhouse gasses and also create jobs.”
Granholm: Renewable energy a ‘massive opportunity’
Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm testified before a senate committee as President Joe Biden’s pick for energy secretary. She’s advocating for an increase in renewable energy, which does not emit planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. (Jan. 27)
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.