On March 14, I attended an event in New York that was a rollout, of sorts, for the workforce side of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed Green New Deal for the state. Hosted by Philanthropy New York (longtime friend of NYEC Bret Halverson got me an invitation), the event was meant to align the efforts of philanthropic funders and NYSERDA, the lead state agency on the Green New Deal proposal.
From a long series of presentations and panel questions, a few general themes emerged for me that may be relevant to NYEC members involved in green-economy conversations in their states.
- NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency, has existed since the 1970s. Funders and workforce leaders in attendance were positive on interactions with the agency over the years, describing NYSERDA’s culture as collaborative and experimental – in marked contrast with how I generally hear state agencies described. NYSERDA is a state authority with gubernatorial appointees but not direct oversight by the governor, which has allowed it independence over the years.
- Overall, energy-efficiency work is the easiest lift in the green-jobs mix. Energy-efficiency jobs include workers who weatherize residential and commercial properties; upgrade HVAC equipment; and install high-efficiency building systems, windows, lights, and appliances. These made up the most new jobs in 2017 of the energy sector. Nationwide, there are roughly as many energy-efficiency workers as servers in U.S. bars and restaurants. There will also continue to be strong growth in this part of the sector.
- Jobs in the solar and wind fields are more challenging. Because of the ease of installing current “snap together” solar panels, jobs working on large-scale solar arrays tend to be transient and short-term, with fewer opportunities for growth. Installing panels on roofs is another story, and as utility-scale arrays take off these jobs may become more stable. Wind-energy credential programs are growing, but not at the pace necessitated by a true shift to a green economy – nor is there presently enough demand to drive a burgeoning of credential programs. New York State, for instance, is buying up leases in the Atlantic for future offshore wind farms, but job growth won’t appear until the state is ready to ship and install turbines, which could be years in the future.
- Long-term battery storage, which will need to be a major source of any wind- and solar-heavy plan, is in its infancy, technologically and workforce-wise. This Scientific American piece provides a good perspective on the current technological state of green technologies.
- Regarding equity…
- Creating paths from “hardhat jobs” to other parts of the green economy came up at the event, as in other green-economy conversations. Green City Force, which employs young people from New York City public housing, does a great job using beautification and energy-efficiency work to transition young people into other green-collar jobs, but the sector as a whole is not organized around pathways that create racial and economic justice.
- More needs to be done to empower marginalized communities to weigh in on the growing green economy. Lisbeth Shepherd, Green City Force’s founder, has been thinking a lot about how to meaningfully engage their young people in policy conversations, beyond the youth summit that they host every year, and hopes to eventually engage the public-housing communities with which they work more broadly.
- Driving dollars from massive public investments like the Green New Deal to smaller community-based organizations requires deep partnership now. Philanthropy can help by identifying smaller players, building networks to support them, and lifting up their voices.
- Geographically, energy-efficiency jobs tend to match up with population clusters, since most work is done on the existing built environment. Energy-generation jobs are more clustered and will require a stronger equity focus.
Melinda Mack, executive director of New York State’s workforce association, made a contextual point that stuck with me: in the coming decades technological change will require all of us to retrain. How will we make sure that all young people are training and retraining for our future green economy, rather than today’s fossil-fuel economy?