New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich recently introduced the Energy Workforce for the 21st Century Act, seeking to meet growing demands in the clean energy workforce.
If passed, the legislation will create a comprehensive strategy for the Department of Energy to increase participation of women and minorities in the energy sector, provide training for displaced workers and encourage education leaders to give pertinent training to students.
“We need to prepare New Mexicans to work in the clean energy jobs of the future and increase the participation of women and minorities throughout the energy sector,” Heinrich said in a press release.
“This is the future of jobs,” he said. “It’s incredibly important.”
Heinrich said students and young people understand the global issues of climate change and need to be exposed to the growing opportunities in the clean energy sector to ensure the workforce is in place to meet the future demand.
The legislation will direct Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to carry out a program to improve education and training for energy and manufacturing-related jobs.
The legislation also encourages underrepresented groups — like women, minorities and the economically disadvantaged — to enter STEM fields.
“The workforce of tomorrow should look like America,” Heinrich said of the push for minority inclusion.
Collaboration with minority-serving institutions, including Hispanic-serving institutions like UNM, was also prioritized in the bill.
Under the legislation, the Department of Energy is instructed to maintain data on workforce training programs for energy-related jobs.
Retraining, resource allocation and providing job opportunities to displaced workers were all also outlined in the bill.
“We shouldn’t leave anyone behind,” Heinrich said, saying those willing to be retrained and work shouldn’t be penalized.
Energy industries have been ravaged by changing electricity generation sources, according to data published by the Department of Energy.
According to the report, 2016 saw the largest quarter-over-quarter decline since 1984. Consumption of coal has dropped by nearly a third since 2007, the report indicated, citing competition with renewables as one of the leading causes of decline.
The Trump administration has made efforts to strengthen fossil fuel power generation, including an executive order pushing the repeal of Obama-era policies like the Clean Power Plan.
The administration said the move was a way to boost economic growth, improve energy security and bring back thousands of jobs in coal country, though some analysts have raised issue with the projections.
Though the executive branch has made its position on energy sector reform clear, Heinrich is “pretty optimistic.”
The Senate passed a similar piece of legislation (an energy package) in the last session of Congress last year, but the legislation was defeated in the House. Restoring previous negotiations will be critical to its passage, Heinrich said.
The senator has also pushed for other initiatives to promote clean energy. Last month, Heinrich announced $51 million in bonds for Albuquerque to install 54 new renewable energy projects.
Other state renewable energy developments include: the Sagamore Wind Project and El Cabo Wind Farm, which have provided considerable electric demand throughout New Mexico.
The solar industry has also seen growth and, in 2016, created over 1,000 jobs with employment up 54 percent, according to reports from the Solar Foundation.
Brendon Gray is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @notgraybrendon.