High unemployment in the US remains a compelling story. Federal efforts designed to encourage cleaner energy are trying to make a small dent in the problem.
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government is shoveling more than $32 billion to the states to develop what it considers less-polluting energy, such as wind, solar, geothermal, fuel cells, efficiency improvements, electric grid modernization, carbon capture and sequestration, advanced nuclear, and cleaner coal. But often there is a woeful shortage of skilled workers to plan, design, build, operate, and maintain these projects, so the Recovery Act also included well over $500 million within the $32 billion pie to train, certify, recruit, and retain workers.
The National Governors Association issued a report on those worker efforts on Nov. 4, 2010. Programs in more than 30 states are highlighted, providing good starting points for you to investigate what is being done in the state(s) you cover, how effective the programs are, and when those workers will be available. The players involved include universities, community colleges, technical training institutions, state agencies, nonprofit organizations, labor unions, and a wide range of private sector businesses. The report includes lists of specific job types that are in demand, helping you to focus on specific niches.
The $500 million, which comes from various funding pools, must be spent by January 2013, though some of the money is expected to be spent to develop programs that will last much longer, and draw from other funding sources.
One twist to keep in mind is that the results of the Nov. 2, 2010, elections have dramatically changed the political winds in many states. New governors and members of Congress and state legislatures may try to alter some or all of these worker-related efforts. One interesting development would be if new leaders try to reduce funding for employment efforts — at a time when unemployment is a front page headline issue — in order to directly or indirectly impede cleaner energy and climate change mitigation efforts.
For more details on all the grants awarded for these efforts, see the following Dept. of Labor press releases that lay out general information on a state and funding program basis, and include a link to the nitty-gritty for each award:
- State Energy Sector Partnership and Training Grants. 
- Energy Training Partnership Grants. 
- Pathways Out of Poverty. 
- State Labor Market Information Improvement and Green Capacity Building Grants. 
If you want to flesh out any other related Recovery Act spending, one source is the database assembled by the advocacy group OMB Watch. The current version is based on data through Aug. 24, 2010.
The main federal government page, which also includes tools for tracking where money has gone, is: