Nebraska urged to do more to train for green jobs

Source: By Paul Hammel, WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER • Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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Daniel Lawse says his two “green” jobs didn’t exist three years ago.

Lawse advises businesses and homeowners on how to cut energy bills with weather-stripping, added insulation and other conservation measures. He does the same job for Metropolitan Community College, as well as helping develop classes to train others for green jobs in the wind and solar energy industries, construction and other fields.

“The opportunities are exciting,” said Lawse, assistant director of campus planning and sustainability at Metro.

On Monday he was among those testifying at a state legislative hearing focused on whether Nebraska needs to do more to train young people for green jobs.

After the hearing, State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha said he is convinced the state must do more to convince kids that Nebraska has good-paying jobs requiring only a two-year degree from a community college.

“I don’t think kids really appreciate what’s available if you don’t go to a (four-year) college,” said Lathrop, chairman of the Legislature’s Business and Labor Committee.

The committee heard testimony from several representatives of engineering and renewable energy companies at the interim study hearing at Creighton University. The session came after a tour of the school’s solar energy installation and a visit to Distefano Technology and Manufacturing, an Omaha company that makes parts for solar and wind energy units.

Several of those who testified said Nebraska has developed good training programs for green jobs but needs to sweeten its business incentives to create more of those jobs in the state.

Iowa, with 7,000 jobs at renewable energy installations and factories, has done a much better job attracting manufacturers, as has Colorado, said David Levy, an Omaha lawyer and lobbyist for a wind energy company.

“We are competing against our neighbors for this,” Levy said. “The manufacturers like to be where the action is.”

A recent study done for the Sierra Club of Nebraska concluded that the state could create an additional 14,000 jobs by 2030 if it more aggressively developed its wind and solar energy resources.

The state has the fourth-best wind resources in the country and the ninth-best solar resources, but it has lagged in developing them, the study said. By contrast, Iowa is dotted with wind farms and has 4,300 megawatts of turbines, compared with the 337 megawatts in Nebraska.

Those testifying said Nebraska’s lower cost of energy, its smaller population and regulatory barriers to developing wind farms in a public power state have stunted renewable energy development, despite interest by the state’s utilities.

Levy and others said Nebraska needs to match incentives provided by neighboring states like Kansas, or risk losing wind projects to them.

By contrast, the committee was told, Nebraska was one of the first states to provide incentives for ethanol plant construction. It now has 24 plants and is No. 2 in the nation in the production of the corn-based fuel.

Lawse said conservation and renewable energy not only create jobs but can give people more money to spend on cars, furniture and other goods.

A study in Sarpy County concluded that for every 50-cent increase in gasoline prices, residents had in total $30 million less to spend on other things, he said.

Lawse added that energy audits of the typical home built before 1985 can result in savings of 20 percent to 40 percent.

After the hearing, Lathrop said he would be exploring whether “career academies” being considered by the Legislature for Nebraska schools would include technical training for green jobs.