State surveys green jobs
Agency collects information on training, wages
By DAVE WILKINS
Idaho is trying to assess the number of existing "green jobs" in the state and the potential for future growth.
The Idaho Department of Labor planned to ask 5,000 randomly selected employers to participate in the 2010 Green Jobs Survey in late June.
The agency wants to gather information about the number and types of green jobs available, the educational requirements involved and the wages offered.
The information gleaned will help the state identify any labor or skill shortages, assess educational needs and assist job seekers, state officials said.
South-central Idaho has many jobs that could be classified as green jobs and there appears to be good potential for more, said Jan Roeser, regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor in the Magic Valley.
Several wind farms have sprung up in the region in recent years, and U.S. Geothermal Co. operates a large plant at Raft River.
"We actually have a lot of potential," Roeser said in an interview. "It's a wide open area."
Other examples of green jobs in Idaho include organic farming, composting operations and the growing number of dairies that use anaerobic digesters to capture and sell methane gas, Roeser said.
The College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls is gearing up to meet the anticipated increase in demand for green jobs.
The school's agriculture department launched two new programs last year related to renewal energy.
The new wind energy program trains students to fix and maintain commercial wind turbines. Students can earn a one-year technical certificate or a two-year associate's degree in applied science.
The college also launched a new environmental technician program that serves as an introduction to a variety of renewable energy technologies, including residential and farm wind energy projects, solar, biofuels and geothermal.
There's been strong interest in both programs, said Terry Patterson, chairman of the college's ag department.
"We've had a lot of interest," Patterson said in an interview. "The classes are full."
Many large-scale wind development projects are in the works in Idaho and surrounding states, he said.
In early June, the city of Boise announced that it had entered into lease negotiations with a company called Sunergy World to build a $45 million 10-megawatt solar energy plant on the site of a former city dump.
Lawmakers in Oregon and Washington have already approved economic incentives to promote the development of solar power. Patterson expects the Idaho Legislature to act too.
"We're not there yet, but I think we will be," he said. "We have better solar resources than some surrounding states."
Assessing the potential for green jobs in Idaho is difficult in part because the technology is still relatively new and still evolving, Patterson said.
The labor department survey will be helpful, he said.
Whatever the employment potential turns out to be, it will be to the state's advantage to have a workforce that's trained and ready to go, Patterson said.