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February 10, 2011

Jobs That Drive Electric Vehicles

Green jobs1

Azeem Hill is a senior at West Philadelphia High School's Auto Academy.  He came to the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington, DC this week to speak on a panel about the plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that he and his fellow high school teammates had designed and built for the 2010 Progressive Automotive X Prize Competition.  Azeem's team defied expectations by making it to the semi-finals, beating out many of its corporate and Ivy League competitors.

Green jobs3 Asked why Azeem got involved working long unpaid hours with his team to build a car, he said, "It gave me a sense of identity.  This program brings urban students into the green economy in an educated way.  Once we got [to the competition], we took ourselves more seriously."

Azeem wasn't the only one talking about plug-in vehicles at this year's fourth annual Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference.  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, as well as many of the other plenary speakers, lauded President Obama's pledge last month in his State of the Union address to get 1 million electric vehicles (EVs) on US roads by 2015.

GM, one of the conference sponsors, let conference participants oggle at and even pop the hood of the new Chevy Volt, now being sold in select cities around the country.  The Volt can go about 30 miles on an electric charge before a gasoline-powered engine kicks in, while pure electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf can go as much as 100 miles on a charge.  The many EVs coming out this year and next are less carbon polluting than nearly all other vehicles on the road, and they reduce our dependence on oil.

In their panel presentation on "Advancing the Capability of US Cities to Support the Deployment of Electric Vehicles," speakers from agencies in Atlanta and Philadelphia described their work to ease the permitting process for the installation of electric vehicle chargers. 

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel called "The New Electric Drive Industry:  Where are the Jobs?"  Brad Markell of the United Auto Workers said that electric is where the auto industry is heading, and these jobs could and should be here in the U.S.  He presented a map that showed more than 35 recent Recovery Act grants that are putting Americans to work in 19 states on major electric vehicle and battery manufacturing projects. 

Marty Riesberg of the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee said there are vast job opportunities for the 350,000 trained electrical workers in this country to install electric vehicle charging units.  Joe Dooley described his work with former Michigan Governor Granholm to attract $5.9 billion in state, federal, and private electric vehicle-related investment in the state of Michigan.  One of the results is more than 60,000 jobs for Michigan workers this decade.

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The day of our EV panel was my daughter Farah's 6th birthday.  I shared with the audience my vision that together with partners throughout the country, we would ensure that in ten years, when my daughter will presumably be applying for her driver's license (and when Azeem may be running his own green auto company), electric will be the norm for vehicles, they will be powered by clean energy sources, and they will continue to help drive our green economy.

First two photos: Gina Coplon-Newfield; Last photo: Javier Sierra.

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield, Sierra Club's Senior Campaign Representative, Electric Vehicles/Beyond Coal


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