Window on State Government - Susan Combs, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
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This column is meant to be a conversation about the federal stimulus package as the Comptroller's office tracks how the money is spent in Texas.

June 29, 2009

Green is the new black


Five colleges want to bring stimulus dollars and renewable energy jobs to Texas. We knew renewable was cool before it got hot. And we're not talking about the weather.

As white- and blue-collar jobs are lost in the recession, green-collar jobs are becoming the fashion of the day. The green sector is a small but growing segment of the state’s total energy workforce. But it’s all the buzz. That’s what billions of federal stimulus dollars will do for you.

Five community and technical colleges in Texas announced last week that they are collectively targeting stimulus dollars earmarked for education and energy to bring more renewable energy jobs to the state.

Members of the collaborative effort are The Austin Community College District, Dallas Community College District, Temple College, The Texas State Technical College System and The Alamo Colleges.

The partnership, called the I-35 Green Corridor Collaborative, focuses on two areas that Texas has excelled at historically — creating jobs and energy. (Texas will only add to its role as the nation’s top energy producer by adding “green” sources to its bedrock of oil and gas.)

In this instance, the chief executives of the five colleges pledged to share curricula, faculty training and other resources to eliminate duplication and speed up the expansion of “green” education. The colleges hope to prepare workers for skilled jobs in the solar, wind, geothermal and conservation industries.

“This represents an attempt to be better organized and leverage our resources,” says ACC President Stephen Kinslow. “A regional approach certainly makes us more competitive.”

The five colleges represent almost a third of all enrollment in Texas community and technical colleges.

“Our students are the future workers of the state of Texas,” Kinslow says.

And some are past workers looking to get back into the workforce. Bill Morrison was a software engineer who saw his job shipped overseas. He’s combining his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with training in ACC’s renewable energy programs.

“This is the kind of work you can’t (send) off-shore,” says Morrison, standing in front of solar panels at a campus demonstration. “You have to install it here.”

Bill Morrison with ACC student Jide Kareem wiring the DC to AC converter for solar panels.
Bill Morrison with ACC student Jide Kareem wiring the DC to AC converter for solar panels.

Morrison, who is both an instructor and student in the ACC program, hopes to teach or go into design work.

“These are the kind of skills that would be great to have,” Morrison says. “And as long as the economy is like it is, this is a good time to go to school.”

The colleges will be applying for stimulus money directly from federal agencies and the Comptroller’s State Energy Conservation Office and probably from the Texas Workforce Commission.

SECO, as we call it, is no stranger to combining education and renewable energy efforts.

Three years ago, the two state agencies contributed more than $370,000 in grants to help start ACC’s renewable energy program. Last year, SECO started The Renewable Energy Education Consortium (TREEC), which includes nine community colleges, to develop efforts supporting sustainable and renewable technologies.

And just this month, SECO provided another $74,000 to ACC to help train faculty for the program.

Even before the federal stimulus, SECO knew renewable energy is cool — and would be hot someday.

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