Ohio in position to fill key green energy gaps to create more area jobs

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COLUMBUS — Ohio should look to its roots in manufacturing — and its expertise in developing new technologies — to spur the state’s job growth in the green economy, according to a new Ohio State University policy brief.

“When Ohio, or any state, focuses on green jobs, they really should look at the state’s resources — not only natural resources, but its infrastructure and people,” said Ohio State research assistant Amanda Weinstein.

She recently authored Making Green Jobs Work for Ohio, available online at http://aede.osu.edu/programs/Swank/, with Mark Partridge, Swank Professor of Urban Policy in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics.

The paper examines the state’s alternative energy policies and green job subsidies and makes recommendations for policy-makers to consider.

Don’t follow

Weinstein and Partridge recommend that Ohio shift its green energy programs from playing “follow the leader” in developing wind and solar energy farms — developments in which many other states are leaps and bounds ahead of the Buckeye state — and instead focus on filling crucial gaps in the green energy system: developing new storage and transmission technologies to put green energy to use.

“What we need is a massive overhaul to the nation’s grid that can easily transfer alternative energy from the places that produce it to the places that need it,” said Partridge, who also has appointments with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and Ohio State University Extension.

“And we need improved ways to store the energy that’s produced to be used at a future time.”

Ohio is uniquely positioned to fill those gaps, the researchers said.

Good location

And Ohio’s strategic geographic position is also a plus: The Buckeye State is within 600 miles of the majority of the U.S. population and of the nation’s manufacturing facilities.

“Investing in these types of technologies isn’t as flashy as investing in solar or wind energy production — you can’t really excite people by showing them a picture of a wire like you can with a giant wind turbine,” Weinstein said.

Investing in developing new energy storage and transmission technologies would also be a bigger boon to Ohio’s economy, the researchers said. Wind and solar power generation are not labor-intensive industries.

But the development and production of new technologies would generate jobs across the wage-earning spectrum, from higher-paying science and engineering fields to more modest-paying production jobs.

Some success

Ohio has already seen some success in focusing on this sector of the new green economy: First Solar in Perrysburg is the world’s largest manufacturer of thin-film solar panels. Five years ago, the company employed just 200 workers; it now employees more than 1,000.

“What policy makers need to ask before deciding on where to make investments in the green economy is simple,” Partridge said.

“‘Does this make economic sense?’ If it doesn’t pass the common-sense smell test, then maybe we should redirect our resources.”

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