Green Jobs Conference: Discussing the Future of an Unsustainable Economy and Recognizing Transportation Issues in California

Drew Sheets/ Oak Leaf

Stas Margaronis spearheads the Green Jobs Conference March 1. Topics included a strategic plan for a zero-emission economy, learning from the history of World War II and the viability of an efficient mass transit system in California.

Drew Sheets, Staff Writer

A wide variety of big names spoke on behalf of sustainable economic possibilities and the trending job market of the future at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Green Job Conference March 1.

Stas Margaronis, President of Santa Maria Shipping Company, put the conference together and provided the leadership to underscore the need for a strategic plan for the future, including a proposal of a zero-emissions economy that could produce more than 600,000 jobs in California and put America on a competitive and sustainable economic course for the future.

His website (RBTUS.com) outlines his plan, to Rebuild the United States.

Margaronis spoke about the need for investment in the right type of clean energy and infrastructure that can create this zero-emissions economy. The high-speed rail is essential to his plan to integrate local rail systems, enabling local investment and synergizing the economies of north, south and central California.

“This is the future and we need to embrace it,” Margaronis said.

Citing the Atlantic Wind Connection, an off-shore wind farm linked from New Jersey to Virginia that will provide a back up power grid for the states involved, Margaronis described how easily California could build its own off-shore farm from San Francisco to the Oregon border, that could power the entire state of California.

In addition, he included how the United States could create 18 to 20 million jobs and effectively take the country out of recession for good if this type of action was implemented across the country.

Congressman Mike Thompson, Sonoma County Supervisors Susan Gorin and Mike McGuire, major wind and solar corporate representatives, SMART Train, California High Speed Rail Authority and PG&E representatives, financiers and many more prominent individuals in business, education and government made up five panels. The panels discussed everything from the history of WWII and local initiatives that help mitigate effects of the Great Recession, to the hard realities of climate change and finance capabilities.

SRJC’s Information Technology Director, Scott Conrad, and the Associated Student President Jessica Jones welcomed the speakers. Jones gave a short speech about how SRJC’s culture has changed, and advocated for more faculty in supporting the shift towards sustainability-focused curriculum.

Congressman Thompson discussed focusing on the current realities of the country by pointing out the economic recovery has been slow and noted that trade imbalances were a big part of the reason why.

“Foreign oil is 40 percent of our trade imbalance. We need to change the way we do things in regards to energy. Every minute of every day, we spend $200,000 on foreign oil,” Thompson said. “You want to fix a big part of the economic problems we face in this country? Fix that and we’ll be back on the fast lane real quick.”

Thompson emphasized the need for stronger recovery. “It is rare to see the environment and the bottom-line come together. So whenever we see the opportunity to do work in that regard, I think we ought to jump on it,” Thompson said. “Clean energy will be for the 21st century what gas, oil and coal was for the 20th century.”

Thompson also pointed out the need for tax reform. “If I can use a very technical term to describe our tax policy at the national level, I’ll say that the tax code is very screwed up right now,” he said.
The congressman wrapped up his speech by advocating for economic growth and implementing some of the local programs Sonoma County has introduced at the national level, such as the Property Accessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. This program created an option for homeowners to invest in clean energy upgrades by taking loans out against their property and paying on the investments over a 20 year time frame by adding the loan onto the homeowners’ property tax.

Jane Elias, Sonoma County Energy Independence representative, credits PACE with saving or creating more than 730 jobs in Sonoma County from the beginning of the recession in 2008 through 2012.

California’s high-speed rail representatives, Ben Tripousis and Meg Cederoth, led a discussion on how California faces unique transportation problems. Tripousis pointed out one-fifth of the country’s most congested areas are located in California and the state is projected to add more than 19 million more people to its current population of 38 million by 2050.

Again, the correlation of moving people and goods efficiently and economic growth came to light. Both Tripoulis and Cederoth noted moving freight is expensive and the central business districts in California are spread out over vast distances, restricting the ability of business to operate competitively and inexpensively like the rest of the developed world.

“More than five million fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles every year, more than any other,” Tripoulis said.

Later, Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) financier Tom McLoughlin described the need to link California together in order to attract investment. During his speech, Mcloughlin cited the differences between the central and coastal hubs of California. “You need to figure out to get the agriculture business involved,” he said.

California Wind Energy Association (CalWEA) asked Santa Rosa resident and 25-year wind industry businessman, Al Davies, to represent the non-profit organization at the Green Jobs Conference. Davies explained how expensive it is to produce energy, but validated Margaronis’ idea that wind turbines, including rigs floating off of the coast of northern California, could in fact relieve America of all of its demand for fossil fuels. “It’s absolutely feasible. You can look at America as the Saudi Arabia of wind energy,” Davies said.

Davies reiterated Thompson’s demand for government acknowledgement and participation in leveling the investment playing field for wind energy, “The production of electricity is the most capital intensive business in the world. We have to be able to access conventional finance, and to do that we have to have the government’s support. All forms of electricity are subsidized by our government in one form or another, whether it’s hydroelectric, nuclear power, fossil fuels; they are all affected by whatever our government does,” Thompson said.

The second panel also highlighted local plans. Supervisor Susan Gorin discussed her passion for sustainability and promised to throw her political weight behind any effort to lobby for sustainability at any level. “I’ve had a strong streak of value of sustainability in me. How to live more simply. How to live healthier lifestyles. So it is my job and has been my job as a city council member, a mayor and now a supervisor to provide the glue to the community conversation and to look for those opportunities to link our efforts directly to sustainability and healthier living,” Gorin said. “Always it has been my dream to look at environmental initiatives and to push our cities and county to green our operations.”

Representing Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit (SMART), John Nemeth gave a backdrop on Northern California’s rail systems. “We’re going to be meeting the state of the art, Tier 4 forms of locomotives,” Nemeth said. “All together, when you do the math, we will be reducing carbon emissions by 31 million pounds per year. That doesn’t include any of the bike paths at all.”

SMART is under construction right now and Nemeth cited 2012 as creating more than 550 jobs. The fiscal year 2013 will be “creating more than 2,000 jobs with 60 percent of these being local jobs. Altogether nearly $6 million is being pumped into local businesses,” Nemeth said. “Most of the stuff we use is built in the USA. The rails in Colorado, the ties in Washington and the trains are assembled in Illinois, and we’re actually bringing this stuff to the site via rail. It’s kind of like a stimulus starting last year.”

Nemeth explained how the rail naturally promotes economic development because hauling via rail is cheaper than trucking, meaning businesses will be able to operate more cheaply. “Most start-up businesses aren’t deep-pocketed, so having the rail available to them makes them more competitive and will look better to investors,” Nemeth said.

PG&E representative Justin Real explained how welders and people with math skills will be in high demand in the future. He encouraged young people to look at PG&E’s website to get the education they will need to meet the job market’s demand.

Jim Eyer of E&I Consulting discussed how power will be generated at the point of consumption in the future, which means solar and wind energy will have to be developed right here at home and our places of work. He briefly discussed some new technologies in energy generation and storage.

“Think beyond the obvious,” Eyer said.

“Due to the size of the components, they have to be made in the United States,” Margaronis said. “We have heard about the challenges. We have to start to believe that the zero-emissions economy is something we can see in our lifetime. We need to support a strategic vision in public education and politics to create this strategic vision. At the national level we have to stop denigrating education and we need to stop putting the interests of tax evasion over the interests of the public.”

SRJC President Dr. Chong spoke last. “Today has been very inspiring. This is exactly why I wanted to come to SRJC. To have this adult conversation about what is possible. It’s through the leadership of Scott Conrad, who approached me and said that we had this visionary who wished to come here and have this discussion we’ve had today. It is very, very inspiring and we are making baby steps in an industry that is moving very quickly. We need leaders that know how to think and developing those leaders is the goal of this institution. They are going to lead the way for the next generation. This is not the end point, but the starting point.”

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