"Green" energy demand means more jobs: conference
By Jon Hurdle
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - Growing U.S. demand for alternative energy is boosting job creation and investment in renewable fuels and energy efficiency technology, experts told a national conference ending on Friday.
Workers are finding jobs building turbines for wind farms, installing solar panels and retrofitting buildings with stronger insulation as businesses learn to make money while being environmentally conscious, said speakers at the "Good Jobs, Green Jobs" conference, organized by the environmental lobbying group Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers union.
The conference drew more than 900 people from business, government, the nonprofit sector, academia and trade unions to discuss ways of increasing jobs in the environmental sector.
"The idea that we are still, in 2008, surprised that good jobs and environmental quality go hand-in-hand is something that should sober us all," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.
There are currently about 8 million "green" jobs in the United States in industries that attracted $148 million in investment in 2007, up 60 percent from the year before, said Lois Quam, managing director of alternative investments at Piper Jaffray, an investment company.
"The green economy is poised to be the mother of all markets, the economic investment opportunity of a lifetime," Quam said. "The challenge of global warming presents us all with the greatest opportunity for return on investment and growth that any of us will ever see."
GREEN JOBS IN A BLUE-COLLAR PLACE
Investment opportunities exist in the fields of energy efficiency, renewable products and retooling of existing industries like transportation and packaging, Quam said.
Kathleen McGinty, secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, said companies like Spain's Gamesa -- which makes components like turbine blades for wind farms -- have moved to Pennsylvania and created jobs in a state once dominated by the steel and coal mining industries.
"We are a hard-hat, blue-collar, steel-tipped boots kind of place, and maybe we have something to offer," McGinty said.
Pennsylvania resident Troy Galloway, 44, worked as a machinist in a steel plant for 15 years until he was laid off. After several years struggling as a real estate agent and contractor, he found a job with Gamesa in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, where about 400 workers make components for wind farms.
Galloway, married with three children, underwent some retraining but largely transferred his skills as a steelworker. He makes $12.36 an hour, a similar rate to his steelmaking job.
Gamesa employs about 1,400 people throughout Pennsylvania.
"Business is very good. We're booked up until 2009," Galloway said.
In Trenton, New Jersey, a company called TerraCycle turns waste like plastic soda bottles into containers for liquid fertilizer and personal accessories like handbags.
"There is so much waste out there that can be upcycled into new products," said Tom Szaky, 26, the company's chief executive. "It's not garbage anymore. It's just a commodity that has some value behind it."