It's an alluring proposition: Connecticut solves its major energy problems while creating a new economy, cuts greenhouse gas emissions while building a new job base. People and the planet both win.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy emphasized the green economy and creation of green jobs during his campaign, and named man who wrote the book on the subject-literally-as his environmental protection commissioner and chief energy advisor.
But experts agree that building a green economy will require major policy changes and lots of money. And there's no clear course to follow.
"Future jobs? We don't even know what those are today," said Tom Burns, director of training at Northeast Utilities and chairman of the Connecticut Green Jobs Partnership. The partnership has $3.4 million in federal funds to help develop a green workforce, and it's spreading the money widely to train, among others, sewage treatment managers, building inspectors and solar panel installers.
"I think one of the reasons the energy area is so dynamic is that the path to the future is quite unclear," said Daniel C. Esty, a Yale law and environment school professor tapped by Malloy to take the lead on energy and environmental issues. "One thing policy has to do is to be robust."
Malloy highlighted the intersection of energy, the environment and the economy when he proposed merging the state's public utility authority into its environmental protection agency and named Esty to head the combined entity, to be called the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Esty has a national reputation for reconciling environmentalism and economic growth, and is the author of "Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage."
Energy is a key to Connecticut's competitiveness as well: Electric rates here are the highest in the country, a fact frequently cited as a drag on the state's business climate. Meanwhile, Connecticut is bound to its renewable energy pledge to produce 27 percent of its energy from renewable sources in only nine years; the state now is at about 4 percent.
Malloy has said that any policy to encourage renewable energy and efficiency must also be a jobs policy. Esty agrees, but he said it will be hard. Getting consumers to cut energy use is difficult, building a green economy will be costly, and there are many unknowns.
What's a green job?
One threshold question is, what is a "green job?" There's no clear definition. One thing that is certain is that Connecticut's green economy is very small right now, while the task of replacing more than 100,000 state jobs lost in the recession is very large.
The Connecticut Green Jobs Partnership's federal incentive money, for example, is expected to train 895 people for energy-related jobs-but there's no assurance that the jobs will materialize. A 2009 state study estimated renewable energy and energy efficiency businesses directly and indirectly accounted for almost 12,000 jobs-just over one-quarter of 1 percent of the state's workforce.
Economic forecasters have yet to identify clear categories for green jobs. Some of them are simply traditional jobs using less energy; others involve newer technologies.
"We sense there is something coming, but our old tools of classification are not evolving fast enough," said Patrick Flaherty, an economist in the office of research at the state Department of Labor. For example, what is a sustainability coordinator? At some companies, that is an executive with a master's degree. In others, it is the janitor. "Those are both important jobs," he said, but it's impossible to identify whether that job title refers to a white-collar or blue-collar employee.