the (new) american worker

Cash for Caulkers: Not Exactly a Done Deal

With a healthy 346-68 lead, the House passed yesterday the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act, a bill that offers tax incentives for investment in home energy efficiency, with the hopes of creating scores of new auditing and construction jobs. Of course, with the passage of a bill now humorously termed “Cash for Caulkers,” the usual flood of celebratory DC press releases flooded the wires.

Beyond the press release: Unless DC Democrats can make the budget cuts required by Republican support of the new Home Star jobs bill, the "Cash for Caulkers" program is just an empty promise.

From House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office: “The legislation will create nearly 168,000 jobs in construction, manufacturing, and retail – some of the hardest hit sectors during the Bush recession.” (LOL, the “Bush recession” – kudos to the communications officers for that one).

From Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA): “I am pleased that this legislation will incentivize targeted job training and financial assistance for low-income communities and the chronically unemployed.”

Woo! What a great bill, right? Creating good jobs for American workers building energy efficient infrastructure, WHILST trimming back tax burdens. Um, well kind of – as Atlantic Journal Constitution blogger Jamie Dupree notes, Democrats actually turned against this bill in early voting, in protest of a Republican “Deficit Neutrality” motion. This motion essentially mandated that the costs of the “Cash for Caulkers” program be offset by new revenues or cutbacks elsewhere to come into effect. Without cuts or new revenue creation, it will, in effect, be a nothing bill. After some wrangling, Democrats voted with the motion, meaning they have some work to do before any of those promised jobs can be created. Of course, with the House passage,  the Senate now faces a similar challenge.

In my opinion, politicians need to get to work on this issue – and fast. After all, these jobs aren’t handouts – they are in high demand. Even before the dangling of tax credits, it has been clear Americans want to improve their homes. I recall an article in the Atlantic a few months back that followed the training of two brothers as energy auditors – one a former real estate broker psyched for the huge demand for his new-found talents. In light of this promise, let’s hope Washington can get it together and find a place – with some real meaning behind it  – for the Cash for Caulkers program.


As Gulf Cleanup Continues, Wind Power Looks, Well, Pretty Good

After months and months of deliberations, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar finally gave the federal go-ahead for Massachusetts developer Jim Gordon and his offshore windfarm project Cape Wind late last month. While a huge boon for wind-power advocates, the project still faces a series of challenging hurdles – not the least of which is clearing from the FAA, which still must  determine whether the 130-turbine wind farm will interfere with air traffic control operations. Still, as a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to wreck havoc on the fragile environment and economy of that region, it seems like Salazar’s decision could not be better timed.

As a massive offshore oil drilling spill threatens the Gulf coast, the federal approval of the offshore wind farm project Cape Wind could not have been better timed.

As I’ve written previously, a couple friends of mine recently wrapped production on a years-long documentary of the fierce battle between Gordon’s supporters and detractors – the result, Cape Wind: The Fight for the Future of Power in America premieres soon and should be an exceptional inside look at a battle that has had national implications for America’s energy future. In light of Salazar’s exciting decision, and the incongruity of the implications of wind power and the drilling tragedy in the Gulf, I am sharing a headline from the Huffington Post I came across recently: “BREAKING: LARGE AIR SPILL AT WIND FARM. NO THREATS REPORTED. SOME CLAIM TO ENJOY THE BREEZE. ”

America, Say Hello to Ethanol
April 25, 2010, 8:34 pm
Filed under: Energy | Tags: , , , , , , ,

American ethanol producers like Poet Energy recently kicked off the industry's first national television campaign.

I’ve recently noticed a flood of television ads from “Poet” Energy touting the upsides of ethanol biofuel – in one, a young woman in a lab coat stands in Times Square and proclaims that she is a part-time scientist, full-time Poet (cute) – and I wondered, who is Poet Energy? Well, apparently, they are the world’s largest ethanol producer and these TV spots are the beginning of their first national television advertising campaign, according to Ethanol Producer magazine.

Poet isn’t the only producer of corn-based ethanol, or “America’s fuel,” as advocates call it, to begin a major ad campaign this month. Growth Energy, represented by such big-wigs as former General (and presidential aspirant) Wesley Clark, also kicked off TV spots this month. Growth’s simple ads flash dramatic oneliners like ““No beaches have been closed due to ethanol spills,” and “We won’t have to wait millions of years to replenish our ethanol reserves,” driving home a clear message: support ethanol and you support a clean, independent source of energy. According to EP, ethanol producers don’t believe they have been given enough credit within the recent push for homegrown energy sources, likely because ethanol has previously been associated with destructive farming practices that are, according to Growth CEO Buis, a far cry from how the industry operates today.

Getting a fair shot at home doesn’t seem to be the only reason, however, that American ethanol producers are angling for a turn in the spotlight. According to the National Journal, companies like Growth and Poet are also stepping up efforts to discourage U.S. lawmakers from allowing a 54 cent tariff on imported Brazilian sugarcane ethanol to expire at the end of 2010. While Americans can produce sugarcane ethanol, it is predominantly grown in Brazil, where it too is criticized for environmentally suspect methods of production. Brazil recently announced that it will lift its tariff on imported U.S. ethanol, while also claiming that sugarcane ethanol averages 50 cents less per gallon than corn ethanol. It’s seems pretty clear that Brazil is playing hardball, and U.S. producers are fighting back, with these multi-million dollar campaigns. Whatever happens, it’s been interesting to finally get a look at the players in the ethanol market, which certainly does go unnoticed amidst renewable stars like solar and wind.

Fluff Alert! Labor Department Releases Green Jobs “Report” for Earth Day
April 22, 2010, 10:46 pm
Filed under: jobs | Tags: , , , ,

Fluff alert!! Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and another green jobs photo op.

Check out the Labor Department site and you will see that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was all over Earth Day today – naturally, the 40 year celebration of Mother Earth is an opportune occasion to highlight her agency’s efforts in green job building. But if you check out the Dept’s “full report”  on green jobs, (at 10 pages) you will see lots of cool pictures of Solis strolling confidently through solar plants but not a ton of data. It’s a little disappointing, but I guess the PR opportunity was there and the Labor Dept decided to just go with it. Of course, the report did acknowledge the $490 million that was awarded for green jobs training under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but that’s nothing new at all. How about an update on that funding? What training programs have been successful? What are the conversion rates for older workers into new careers in green building or energy industries? What are the sign up rates for young people in vocational tech programs like solar installation? Are new degree programs being explored, to accommodate the need for intellectual investment in homegrown energy technology? These are the sorts of questions that should be answered in a “green jobs report,” not another picture of Hilda Solis looking good in industrial plant gear! C’mon guys.

SolarCity Catching Headwinds, Adding Jobs in 2010
April 18, 2010, 10:36 pm
Filed under: solar | Tags: , , , ,

Office with a view: Foster City, CA-based SolarCity is hiring for a range of roles to support its growing solar installation business.

A few days back, I wrote about the impressive growth in the residential solar market in 2009. One company that has caught these headwinds is SolarCity, a Foster City, CA-based solar leasing company that notably offers “no-money-down” leases for home solar installations. Apparently, more and more consumers are now taking SolarCity up on its offer – the San Jose Mercury News reports that the company added almost 300 jobs last year and anticipates adding another 250 in 2010. A spokesman for the company emphasized that these jobs were full-time, full benefits jobs – in my mind, an attractive transition for all those laid-off home contractors out there.

A quick scan of some job posting boards shows SolarCity isn’t just tossing around hiring claims for good press – they are indeed hiring, for a wide range of gigs. Take a look at, and you can see SolarCity is hiring everyone from installers to sales to brand management – the field or the corporate office – take your pick!

Tax Credits Continue To Boost Residential Solar Market

Being tax day, I thought I’d take a look at solar power – a renewable that gets tremendous support from the federal government, in the form of tax credits and other incentives. According to a Dow Jones piece today, this push is paying off, most prominently in residential solar power installation, which experienced 37 percent growth in 2009, up from 351 megawatts installed in 2008.

Residential solar projects doubled their growth in 2009, likely driven by federal and state solar installation tax credits.

What does this all mean? It means steep reductions in solar costs for the residential consumer and … my favorite … good jobs! Dow Jones reports that the solar industry added 10,000 jobs in 2009, to round out at 46,000 total workers in the U.S. solar industry. Driving this demand demand is the $270 million of federal grants the government is doling out to solar project owners, and for consumers, credits like California’s 7.5% state income tax credit on the purchase and installation costs of home solar or wind energy systems.

Though credits like California’s have been widely reported, I wonder if tax season will be able to really drive it home. Seeing it on your return – and the credits available – could hit the right note with those on-the-fence consumers.

Gone Upstate: A Few Shots of Life on the Marcellus Shale

Last week, I took a long, scenic drive upstate to visit the “Valley” – a little smattering of villages on either side of the southern New York/north central Pennsylvania border. I went to get a sense for the area, one that I understood to be chronically depressed and fiercely torn over the prospect of shale gas drilling – for some, an immense resource, for others the worst possible solution to decades of economic decay. The issue is especially prevalent as Pennsylvania has already begun tapping its portion of the Marcellus Shale gas formation, resulting in a sharp uptick in state revenue – in 2009, the state and local tax revenue drawn from PA drilling projects is estimated to have grown 60 percent, from $240 million in 2008 to an estimated $400 million in 2009.

A moratorium on drilling stands in New York, as the state works through regulatory process with “no timeline,” according to DEC spokesman Yancey Roy. Many expect New York to eventually approve drilling on its stake in the Marcellus Shale, but as Pennsylvania still works out its environmental controls – five PA wells were slapped with violations last month – is shale drilling in New York really worth it? I’m writing about that now, for a feature class @ NYU – so for the time being, enjoy some images…

Towanda, PA. If this was a wider shot, you'd see cows grazing to the left. Wonder what they think of their new neighbors...

A producing well (post-drilling). A well like this could produce for up to 30 years, though most output will occur in its first 10.

These orange stakes, ribbons whipping, dot the Bradford County countryside. They are almost comically modest - if one of these spots proves to hold enough shale gas, the landowner just hit the jackpot.