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States Push Green Energy Initiatives to Combat Recession, Create Jobs

April 22, 2009

In the midst of a national economic recession contributing to a record number of job losses in traditional industries, forward thinking states are exploring ideas and committing funds to help grow and diversify their economies and strengthen their renewable energy portfolios.

Over the past several months, governors, legislators and economic development groups have announced new initiatives aimed at job growth and energy independence in the new economy. The following overview provides a sampling of green energy initiatives and investments from numerous proposals and announcements across the nation.

Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) announced a recent investment of $4 million to support five science-based businesses in the solar industry, according to an article in The Arizona Republic. SFAz also formed a new branch called the Solar Technology Institute to further support the industry. Projects approved for funding include development of reflectors that concentrate sunlight on solar panels, expansion of a photovoltaic testing laboratory, and development of software to help determine where to build power plants, storage sites and other energy infrastructure.

The nonprofit corporation matches state dollars with private funds to strengthen Arizona's biomedical research and industry. However, continued support for SFAz is uncertain with a recent reduction of funds to Arizona's 21st Century Competitive Initiative Fund, which supports the efforts of SFAz (see the Feb. 4, 2009 issue of the Digest).

In an effort to attract and retain clean technology companies, boost job creation, and attract federal funding for clean tech R&D, Los Angeles city leaders, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California last week signed a Memorandum of Understanding to form a partnership called CleanTechLA. The partnership also includes the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles Business Council and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Last week's signing formalizes the year-old partnership that originally was established to help Los Angeles lobby to bring the proposed California Institute for Climate Change to the region, according to a UCLA press release. A new proposal for the center was reintroduced in the California Legislature in February, following Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's veto of legislation establishing the center last year, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The West Michigan Strategic Alliance announced last November it will launch the West Michigan Green Jobs Regional Skills Alliance to prepare workers for jobs in the alternative energy industry. The alliance, which received a $20,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, will determine the skill sets workers need to obtain green jobs, conduct green jobs market analysis, and work with educational institutions to provide the education and skills training for workers. 

During the 2008 legislative session, lawmakers added a new green jobs component to Michigan's No Worker Left Behind Initiative, directing $6 million for investment in job training within emerging industries of wind, solar, biofuels and geothermal. The program provides financial assistance for training programs or up to two years' tuition at any Michigan community college or university for training in high-demand occupations.

New Mexico
In support of Gov. Bill Richardson's proposal to develop a workforce trained for 21st century jobs, the New Mexico State Legislature passed two bills this session allocating funds and creating training programs for green jobs.

HB 622 creates a green jobs fund from which higher education institutes will create green job training programs. The fund was initially designed to receive money from bonds issued by the New Mexico Finance Authority. However, that provision was eliminated and now the fund will receive appropriations from federal green jobs programs and any other allocations, according to an article in The New Mexico Independent. Lawmakers also passed a measure designating a portion of state funds for training in the green energy sector. SB 318 requires a minimum of $1 million from the state's Job Training Incentive program be used for this purpose. Both bills were signed into law earlier this month.

Building on the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Tax Act of 2008, Gov. Richardson signed SB 257, which extends the state's solar tax credit program, originally designed to fill a gap in a federal program. The bill allows a 10 percent state tax credit above the federal credit of 30 percent on the cost of solar installation up to $2,000, reports The New Mexico Independent.

Lawmakers also allocated funding for two major solar initiatives from new Severance Tax Bonding designated for capital outlay projects. Specifically, $6 million was approved for the Schott Solar Manufacturing Plant to accelerate development of solar power generation capacity and for the completion of a 200,000-square-foot solar equipment manufacturing plant. Another $3 million was approved for Project Sun Kachina for construction of a solar panel production facility in Belen, NM.

New York
Using $561.2 million in federal stimulus funding, lawmakers established the Senate's Green Initiatives Institute, supporting green jobs and community development, according to a press release from the New York state Senate majority leader. The institute will operate through a competitive-grants program for municipalities, community colleges, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses, and focus on renewable energy development and distribution, weatherization, and retrofitting. As many as 8,600 new green jobs are anticipated through the institute, according to the press release.

Gov. Phil Bredesen introduced in March a package of legislative measures designed to encourage a new energy policy for Tennessee. The package of bills, known as the Tennessee Clean Energy Future Act of 2009, is based on recommendations from the governor's Task Force on Energy Policy, which was established in 2008. A key component of the legislation would encourage job creation in the clean energy technology sector by making qualified businesses eligible for Tennessee's existing emerging industry tax credit.

Earlier this year, Gov. Bredesen announced a plan to build a solar research institute in partnership with the private sector, the university system and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (see the Feb. 25, 2009 issue of the Digest). Funding for the institute will be included in an amendment to the executive FY10 budget, according to the governor's office.

Gov. Bredesen's FY10 budget proposal includes $5.3 million to provide third-year non-recurring operational funds for the University of Tennessee Biofuels Center, which is part of a comprehensive plan for Tennessee's fuel strategy that also includes research funding to increase switchgrass production and find other non-biomass alternative fuel sources.

Lawmakers passed a bill during the 2009 legislative session that provides a competitive edge for recruiting clean energy businesses to the state. HB 430 establishes renewable energy development zones and provides a refundable tax credit on 100 percent of tax liability for alternative energy projects within the zones. The legislation stipulates that incentives are "post-performance" and businesses must meet standards set by the Governor's Office of Economic Development. These include direct investment within the boundaries of a zone, creation of new incremental jobs in the state, significant capital investment or the creation of high paying jobs or significant purchases from Utah vendors and providers, and the generation of new state revenues.

Gov. Kaine won approval for reform measures under the Renew Virginia Initiative announced in December as a green jobs and energy proposal (see the Jan.7, 2008 issue of the Digest). They include:

  • SB 1186 - A measure to amend the existing Biofuels Production Incentive Grant Program to create a larger incentive for advanced biofuels that are made from cellulose, hemicelluloses, lignin or algae than for biofuels made from food stocks, such as corn.
  • SB 1339 - A measure providing tools to expand energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources by allowing utility companies to modify electric rates to allow customers to shift electric use to non-peak times when rates are lower. This measure also raises the state's renewable energy portfolio standard to 15 percent by 2025.
Arizona, California, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia