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The Planet

A Ten Megawatt Idea

New Jobs and Energy Independence

By Li Miao

San Francisco Apollo is planning to train roofers to install solar panels. The Sierra Club is working with Apollo in Minnesota to develop wind energy and make the state an energy exporter. In Baton Rouge, members of the Club’s Delta Chapter stood on the capitol steps alongside petrochemical plant workers to rally for clean jobs and a clean environment.

Notice a theme? The Apollo Alliance, a group of 17 U.S. and international unions, environmental organizations, community groups, and businesses, aims to revitalize the national economy through environmentally sound development, and create millions of new jobs.

"The next wave is clean energy," says Apollo co-founder Michael Shellenberger, "buildings that generate electricity and clean the air." Shellenberger says that a national 10-year investment of $30 billion annually—far less than what the nation is spending on the Iraq war—could kickstart cutting-edge advances in energy and mass transit, help rebuild decaying urban centers, retrofit old buildings, develop renewable energy sources and advanced technologies like hybrid cars. Not to mention America’s economic global competitiveness, and reducing trade and budget deficits.

By retooling factories and stimulating growth in emerging industries, Apollo will also help retain union jobs in the U.S. "There’s a connection between highly skilled union workers and environmental quality," says Apollo Alliance Executive Director Bracken Hendricks.

"The environmental community has been working a long time on reducing dependence on oil and fossil fuels," says Sierra Club Legislative Director Debbie Boger. "A lot of problems can be solved with new technologies, and labor is interested because it puts workers to work."

So where’s the mad stampede to embrace Apollo?
For starters, $30 billion dollars is a hefty piece of change. But according to an independent analysis by the Texas-based Perryman Group, over the next decade the United States would benefit from an additional 1.35 trillion dollars in gross domestic product and $280 billion dollars in energy savings under the Apollo Plan. "The obstacles aren’t technical," says Hendricks. "All it takes is political will."

The political will to adopt big structural solutions may be lacking in Washington, D.C., but all over the country, Apollo is laying the groundwork with local and regional efforts. Twenty-three projects are being developed in 15 states so far, and Apollo is a natural extension of partnerships already built by Sierra Club groups. In Louisiana, for example, Club organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley is piggybacking on existing relationships with labor unions to push for clean energy projects.

"The New Apollo Project is all about where we’re going with energy in America," he says. "It’s the vision for the future."

In New York City, environmentalists and labor leaders envision a future of solid-paying, high-skilled construction jobs in retrofitting and new construction of "high performance" buildings that require far less energy, allowing the city to reduce its dependence on volatile Midwest and East Coast energy grids. "There is a nationwide opportunity to substitute high-skill construction employment for wasted energy resources," says Hendricks. "Energy consumption could be cut by 20 to 30 percent by 2020."

On the opposite coast, unions and community and environmental groups are formalizing a California Apollo Alliance. Convened by the California Labor Federation, the effort received a recent boost when the California state treasurer announced a "Green Wave" investment program for CalPERS, the nation’s largest pension fund investor. Apollo leaders are working with CalPERS to invest $1.5 billion in renewable energy projects and clean energy jobs.

Under the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard program, 20 percent of California’s electricity will come from renewable sources of energy by 2017. The state Public Utilities Commission is pushing to meet that goal as soon as 2010, and Apollo member groups are aiding that effort. Like the national Apollo Alliance, California Apollo has a strong Sierra Club presence. Regional Director Carl Zichella sits on California Apollo’s executive committee, and former Club president Adam Werbach has helped launch the Alliance’s first local project, San Francisco Apollo.

Werbach sits on the city’s Public Utilities Commission, and he envisions San Francisco becoming "the leading Apollo city in the country." San Francisco voters approved a landmark $100 million bond in 2001 to support solar projects, fueling Apollo goals toward renewable energy and job development.

"The challenge is to move as fast as the excitement is growing," Werbach says.

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