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Sunday, Nov 11 2012 11:00 PM

DALE WHINERY: Don't pull plug on job training for Kern County veterans

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    Dale Whinery

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California's landmark renewable energy and environmental policies are creating new opportunities for trained workers. Jobs that did not exist a generation ago in wind energy, solar energy, green building and other green technology practices are today a mainstay of the new economy.

In order to sustain green-sector jobs now, and for generations to come, we must create a permanent workforce trained in these new skills and methods. That's just what is happening today at the Clean Energy Center of California at the Kern Community College District.

Through partnerships with renewable energy companies active in wind farm projects, the Clean Energy Center of California offers training to prepare people for jobs in the clean energy and green industry sector.

Some of the most exciting work we're doing involves job training for veterans. The Kern County Veterans Vocational Training Program provides grant-funded training programs, at no charge to individuals, designed to meet the industry's needs for skilled workers in building performance (energy efficiency), wind energy, solar energy, and utility industry sessions.

We've all heard the stunning statistics regarding unemployment rates for our returning veterans. It is truly a tragedy that after our brave men and women sacrifice so much to serve us in difficult and often dangerous circumstances, they can't find good jobs and a safe and secure future when they come home.

That's why I'm so proud of the work we are doing for veterans -- but it is also why I'm so concerned by the risk of a specific policy failure by the U.S. Congress.

The production tax credit (PTC) helps large-scale wind-energy producers compete against heavily subsidized fossil fuel industries. But the wind energy PTC will expire in 2012 unless Congress takes action.

The wind industry's boom-and-bust cycle is evidence that the PTC affects project development. When the PTC has expired in the past, installations have dropped between 73 percent and 93 percent. In recent weeks, leading wind energy companies have announced plant closings, layoffs and cancellation of planned investments, with more bad news on the horizon.

Here in Kern County, the impact of uncertainty over the PTC threatens funding for our veterans programs and all of the top-flight education, professional training and job placement services we provide.

The people most at risk are not strangers. They are our friends and neighbors, our brothers and sisters, or our children.

They are people like Alan Anderson.

Alan served in the U.S. Army for seven years stationed at Fort Polk in Louisiana, Fort Hood in Texas, and Fort Belvoir in Virginia. He served tours of duty in Operation Desert Shield and in Afghanistan, where he specialized as a power generation equipment tech and a Patriot Missile crew member.

"I was very interested returning to power generation after I left the service. Through the program offered at the Clean Energy Center, I was able to enhance my skill set and find a lucrative career within the wind energy here in Kern County," Alan said.

Alan came to the Clean Energy Center for training as a wind energy technician. He graduated in July and is now a full-time employee at EDF Renewable Energy in Mojave.

"It's definitely not your 9-to-5 desk job. I enjoy the challenges associated with trouble shooting faults and working out in the field. This career is enjoyable and provides a positive impact towards my future goals," he said.

I've told Alan what I tell every veteran and every individual who comes through our program. The wind industry has been the greatest career choice I ever could have made. I consider it an honor to reach out to veterans and help them get started in the wind energy industry. I have found that veterans are responsible and, by virtue of their training and experience, have a solid foundation for success. And that's exactly what employers tell me after they hire our veteran trainees.

We've come too far to stop now. I'm hopeful that Congress extends the PTC to keep the door to new opportunities open to Kern County veterans and other workers who are building California's energy future.

Dale Whinery is the lead wind tech instructor for the Clean Energy Center of California (www.thecleanenergycenter.com) at the Kern Community College District. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.

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