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Jobs in Clean Energy Offer Opportunities for African Americans

Emmanuel K. Glakpe

Jobs in Clean Energy Offer Opportunities for African Americans

Is there anything more important than reducing the federal deficit? Yes, it’s creating well-paying jobs in major industries to lift the United States out of the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression.

And when it comes to the staggering rate of unemployment, no community needs jobs more than black Americans who have suffered the most from the misguided economic policies of the past decade that led to the recession. The unemployment rate within the black community currently stands at 15.6 percent, a much higher rate than for all other races that are tracked by the Labor Department. As Bob Herbert pointed out recently in The New York Times, in discussing the overall impact of the recession, “there was no net job creation – none – between December 1999 and now. None!”

This has to change and it needs to begin in the energy sector. The centerpiece of a jobs plan should be to expand and extend tax credits to companies that invest in plant and equipment. This saves them money, improves cash flow and encourages them to modernize.

The stimulating impact on business investment and on job creation would be huge. Consider what it would do to help boost the construction of new nuclear power plants, which are the key to meeting the nation’s growing need for electricity.

Because no nuclear plants have been built in this country in the last 30 years, more than 90 percent of the components and equipment for new reactors must be imported from abroad. This helps to explain why the estimated cost of building a new nuclear plant has reached $7 billion and Wall Street banks are unwilling to provide private financing for construction unless utilities receive government loan guarantees.

If plant components and equipment were built in the United States, the picture might be very different. It would invigorate the economy, provide an opportunity to train and employ a new, highly skilled workforce in the building trades, and strengthen nuclear power. In fact, some manufacturers already have begun to expand their facilities and payrolls in anticipation of new nuclear business.

Two companies broke ground this summer on a facility to build heavy components for nuclear reactors in Newport News, Va., a $360 million investment by AREVA that will create 500 jobs. Also, a turbine-generator supplier by Alstom reopened and expanded its manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., as part of a $200-million investment that’s expected to create 350 jobs. Other plants are opening in Louisiana, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. So far, about 15,000 jobs in nuclear power have been created. But that’s only a start.

A company planning to build a new nuclear plant in Maryland estimates that the project will generate 11,000 jobs, mainly in manufacturing. Among the jobs created are 1,800 in plant construction and 400-800 permanent jobs in plant operation and maintenance. And secondary jobs are generated in the surrounding communities, along with revenue for state and local governments, which, in turn, creates jobs. The average nuclear plant generates $430 million a year in total output for surrounding areas and nearly $40 million per year in labor income. Considering the economic benefits, it’s no surprise that polls show overwhelming support for building additional nuclear units from people who live near existing plants.

The pace of nuclear power growth depends on several factors. One is passage of climate-change legislation. Earlier this year the House of Representatives approved a bill requiring an 80 percent cut in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. To reach that goal, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 130 additional nuclear plants would need to be built. The nuclear industry says this would create 350,000 jobs.

Nuclear power development also depends on financing support from the federal government. Congress has made $18.5 billion available for government loan guarantees, but that would cover just five or six nuclear plants.

Obviously, the level of support needs to be raised substantially.

So it is possible to produce jobs and clean energy. More than possible, it is essential. If the economy doesn’t turn around soon, the problem of unemployment and the millions of people furloughed into part-time work or have stopped looking for jobs will only worsen, and the economy will stagnate. How better to promote growth than to stimulate investment in manufacturing facilities and American workers?

Emmanuel K. Glakpe is professor of mechanical engineering at Howard University.