Thursday, June 21, 2007

Committee Examines Workforce Issues for Small Businesses in Renewable Energy

Instability in oil-producing regions and rising energy prices have made it clear that America needs to move towards energy independence. To meet this demand, the renewable-energy sector is increasing rapidly, with small businesses at the forefront of this expansion. Just last year, biodiesel production reached 225 million gallons. Today, with 148 biodiesel plants in operation, and close to 100 factories under construction, this industry is expected only to grow.

During yesterday's hearing, the House Committee on Small Business reviewed the state of the renewable-energy industry, and potential barriers that could limit its expansion -- including access to a well-trained, skilled workforce, and possible solutions to these obstacles. A bill introduced by committee member Bruce Braley [D-Iowa, pictured] provides funding for bioenergy workforce education.

"This field is still in its infancy -- but it is having significant economic impact," said Rep. Braley, chairman of the Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology. "The potential for new business and job creation is huge.

"Without a qualified workforce, the renewable energy industry will have difficulty filling open positions and will run the risk of falling short of its full potential. That's why new training programs are crucial."

Many small producers don't have the capacity to conduct adequate onsite training, yet a skilled workforce is essential for their survival. To surmount this obstacle and encourage continued growth in renewable energy, Braley has introduced the National Endowment for Workforce Education in Renewables and Agriculture [NEW ERA] Act of 2007, which will provide funding and programs to expand the renewable-energy workforce.

Under the bill, grants would be awarded to community colleges to create renewable-energy workforce education and training programs, allowing for increased investment in human capital. These initiatives will provide a new set of bioenergy workers, ensuring that the expansion of the renewable-fuel industry will have adequate support from skilled professionals equipped with the tools to stay competitive in the field.

"In order for this growing industry to truly flourish, our workforce must have the skills and knowledge necessary to stay on the cutting edge of new technologies," Braley noted. "Proper training will ensure that the renewable-energy sector will continue to develop in a sustainable way."

The renewable-energy industry not only serves as a strong alternative source of energy, but it also creates thousands of jobs nationwide. In 2006 alone, the ethanol industry created over 160,000 new, good-paying jobs -- many of which included retirement and healthcare benefits. The industry's growth also helps to replace some of the 3.1 million manufacturing jobs that have been lost in the U.S. since 2000.

During the hearing, committee members examined ways to ensure that there is "smart growth" within the industry -- including implementation of the NEW ERA Act. Members also heard expert testimony on the importance of ensuring the availability of a strong workforce, and viable ways to go about doing so.

"With the vast potential for renewable-energy production right here in the heart of our own country, we have the critical opportunity to reduce our dependence on foreign oil while creating jobs; it's a win-win situation," Braley said. "For the security and prosperity of our nation, it's time to shift our energy dependence from the Middle East to the Midwest."

You can view parts of yesterday's hearing by visiting YouTube:

Sources: Congress Merge,, U.S. House Committee on Small Business

No comments: