Baton Rouge may want to look to its traditional industry sectors like petrochemical and energy production as the place to grow jobs in the clean — or some would say “green” — economy.
“You know, prowess in certain kinds of chemical activities could lead to competence in ‘green’ chemical production or ‘green’ building materials,” said Mark Muro, one of the lead authors of a nationwide Brookings Institution report released Wednesday that measures the growth of green jobs since 2003.
“The region has a presence in energy-related activities and those may be the basis for moving strongly into clean-tech areas,” Muro added.
Already with 8,167 clean-economy jobs, representing 2.2 percent of its total jobs, Baton Rouge ranks 63rd in the country against the nation’s 100 largest metro regions. Since 2003, the Baton Rouge metro region added 1,472 clean-economy jobs with a growth rate of 2.9 percent annually, the Brookings study found.
Green jobs are viewed as those associated with producing goods or services “with an environmental benefit.”
The Brookings study, known as, “Sizing the Clean Economy,” tracks the growth of the green economy, which it shows employs roughly 2.7 million workers in more than 41,000 companies nationally — representing 2 percent of all jobs and an annual growth rate of 3.4 percent from 2003 to 2010.
In Louisiana, clean-economy jobs make up about 1.5 percent of all jobs in the state, ranking the Bayou State 47th in the country in terms of concentration, according to the Brookings study. The annual growth rate statewide was 0.1 percent — deflated by a negative 2.0 percent annual change in Hurricane Katrina-afflicted New Orleans.
Clean-economy jobs, the study found, stretch across many industry sectors ranging from waste-water treatment facilities to makers of environmentally friendly sustainable cosmetics.
The work of some of those rapidly rising companies can be found in the most far-flung corners of the state.
The St. Helena Parish Jail could be making environmental history.
The small, rural sheriff’s office next to the courthouse square in Greensburg, capable of holding about 75 inmates, is getting a solar hot-water system, and a solar-powered emergency lighting system thanks to federal and state grants, officials said.
“So now, we’ll have — as far as I know — the first solar-powered jail in Louisiana,” said Jeff Shaw, whose Baton Rouge company Gulf South Solar, will help install the $212,000 system.
“It has been pretty much an exponential growth,” Shaw said of the increase of clean energy solar systems he installs across south Louisiana.
“Because of the interest in solar power, plus the increase of tax credits have encouraged more people to do it, plus the rising electric rates have caused people to think more about it,” he explained. “So that has caused our company to grow from just one person — me doing it — to now we have a staff of eight,” Shaw added. Gulf South Solar was formed in 2003.
Even though Baton Rouge and Louisiana have a long and storied history in conventional fossil fuel energy source industries like oil and gas, the state seems to be inching into developing other “green” forms of energy like biofuels.
Dynamic Fuels in Geismar, a new startup by Syntroleum Corp. and Tyson Foods Inc., converts animal fats into fuel and is now making commercial-grade jet fuel.
“That itself kind of dramatizes the transformation we’re talking about,” Muro said of Dynamic Fuels.
“While there has been a conservatism or resistance to change across some of the conventional fossil fuel industry, some firms within the industry have been leaders,” Muro said. “Many of the petroleum companies also have important renewable (fuels) lines. Many have explored alternative fuels,” he said.
The state also spurred the clean economy when it sweetened incentives for Louisiana homeowners wanting to tap into the sun or wind for electric power generation. In 2008 the state began the Wind and Solar Systems Tax Credit Program, which provides for a 50 percent refundable tax credit for all systems. The maximum credit per system is $12,500. The program is administered through the Louisiana Department of Revenue.
“It’s the best in the nation,” Shaw, the solar installer, said.
In addition, for residential projects, the state credits can be combined with federal credits, Shaw said.
“What that did is change Louisiana from a one or two companies in the solar to now there’s over 120 registered solar contractors in the state,” Shaw remarked.
These government-backed incentives are what’s needed to jumpstart industries that could have a worldwide reach, the Brookings study and alternative energy industry leaders conclude.
“The purpose of the tax credits — in my eyes — is to build the industry so that the government is making an investment in the jobs and infrastructure of the industry, so that when we reach that point — which we call ‘grid parity’ — where we’re competitive with other forms of power without subsidies, we’ll have the infrastructure in place,” said Scott Oman, chief technology officer for South Coast Solar, a solar system installer in Metairie.
“And that’s where we will take it to the next level where you could be seeing solar panels on every rooftop,” he added. “Right now it’s all about making that investment to create the jobs, to create the infrastructure.”