Going green seen as job aid: 340,000 state workers would benefit, report

Jun 3 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Joel Dresang - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    Increased investment in energy efficiency and alternative fuels would
benefit more than 340,000 Wisconsin workers, ranging from bus dispatchers to
chemical engineers, according to a report released today by a coalition of
groups including the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers.

    The report identifies 45 occupations expected to be more attractive
because of six "clean-energy" strategies. It lists the numbers of workers
and median wages in those occupations in Wisconsin and 11 other states. And
rather than speculating on possible employment growth, the report suggests
increased demand for existing workers with skills linked to certain

    "We have skills here in Wisconsin to respond to the growing demand as
we convert to a greener economy," said Rosemary Wehnes, Midwest associate
representative for the Sierra Club. "A lot of our work force does have the
skills to do green jobs. And some of them are already doing green jobs."

    For instance, installers of heating and air-conditioning units are
already helping customers reduce energy consumption by putting in more
efficient equipment. And they'd be even busier as more building owners
pursued greater efficiency, according to the report. State and federal data
show 5,200 such workers in the state with a median hourly wage of $19.86.

    The report says making buildings more energy efficient would increase
demand for insulation workers, carpenters, carpenter helpers, roofers,
building inspectors, construction equipment operators, construction
managers, industrial truck drivers and electricians.

    Besides retrofitting buildings, the report examines job needs for mass
transit, energy-efficient automobiles, wind power, solar power and
cellulosic biofuels.

    The Political Economy Research Institute at the University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, prepared the report, which is being released as the
U.S. Senate debates climate-control legislation.

    "The reason why I'm kind of fired up about doing renewable energy and
solar panels and wind panels and biofuels is it opens a whole new way to
create good-paying jobs," said Tom Peplinski, an instrument electrician at
the NewPage Corp. paper mill in Whiting.

    Peplinski said the push to go green offers opportunities for local
workers with technical skills, even as older industries -- including
papermaking -- are contracting.

    "What we're trying to do is promote a whole new economy, a green
energy economy," said Peplinski, a local union president who has taken a
leave from the mill to campaign for green jobs.

    The report did not address the possibilities of job displacements
resulting from the various strategies.

    Some of its conclusions agreed with a report released in March from
the Center on Wisconsin Strategy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
That study says that "many skills of the greener future are closely related
to the skills of today."