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Another Voice: To invest in a strong country, invest in clean energy jobs

On Veteran’s Day, let’s honor our veterans by taking steps to strengthen and protect our country. As a former captain in the United States Army, I consider the most compelling argument for renewable energy to be homeland security. The Department of Homeland Security says, “Without a stable energy supply, health and welfare are threatened, and the U.S. economy cannot function.”

When we are capable of independently producing our own energy, we won’t have to depend on other countries — their regime, stability, tariffs or other factors that can limit their energy export and make energy prices more volatile. The United States can and should supply all the electricity our communities need right here at home. Domestically produced renewable energy offers our country a homegrown, stable, independent supply of energy.

The transition to such a radically different energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will be full of technical challenges that we can overcome if we simply develop the political will to do so. The Oregon Clean Energy Jobs bill is an important step in the right direction. Putting a cap and price on the pollution for the largest emitters would create dollars to be reinvested in making more people employable in the clean energy economy. It’s a law that unleashes Oregonian innovation, and makes our country stronger and our communities healthier.

I am an electrical engineer by trade and have worked in both the advanced manufacturing and wind power industries. I currently teach at Columbia Gorge Community College’s Electro-Mechanical Technology program. The program was developed to meet the need of the nation’s wind turbine, hydro-electric generation, and power transmission facilities operations, maintenance, and service providers as well as the region’s advanced manufacturing and unmanned aerial systems industries. The skills we teach allow students to become employable in a variety of fields, and a majority of graduates find work in the energy field.

Our program is structured such that a student can earn a certificate in nine months and, in two years, obtain an associate’s degree. Numerous students opt for the nine-month certificate and can find jobs that enable them to support a family in their community. These are excellent jobs in a growing industry. Solar installer and wind turbine technician are the two fastest growing jobs in America and many thousands of additional jobs supported. We’re poised to be a natural leader in the national clean energy job market. Beyond that, energy efficient construction and retrofits, advanced irrigation, and modern transportation are some of the many fields creating thousands more jobs in a clean economy. Local renewable power will power more electric vehicles, trucks and buses, which protect us from fossil fuel volatility and natural disaster. We’re already doing so much, and Clean Energy Jobs can help us do more.

If passed into law, Clean Energy Jobs bill has the possibility of creating a domino effect: it would first create the need for more clean energy projects throughout the state, as the largest emitters seek out ways to reduce and offset their emissions. $700 million in annual revenue would be generated to help Oregonians install on-site solar, or invest in energy efficiency projects on their homes and businesses. In turn, clean energy companies would invest more in worker training to help meet the increased demand for workers.

We need hands-on people who can solve problems. We need thousands of technicians and engineers. The Clean Energy Jobs bill will put Oregon to work, help our country, and keep the United States on the leading-edge. Investing in clean energy is investing in a strong country. It’s that simple.

James Pytel has taught at Columbia Gorge Community College’s Electro-Mechanical Technology program since fall 2008.



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