Clean energy jobs growing

Greg Mullen from Monument Foam Insulators, a contractor working for Lancaster Craftsmen Builders, sprays closed-cell foam insulation recently on the attic rafters of a home on East Church Street in Frederick. (Frederick News-Post/Adam Fried)

When Mark Lancaster is able to hire subcontractors to insulate an attic with foam, that’s a good sign, the local builder said.

Lancaster, owner of Middletown-based Lancaster Craftsmen Builders, said jobs like the one being done on a Frederick home last week are evidence that the clean-energy industry continues to grow.

“I’m seeing an absolute increase in my sales traffic, and a lot of it is being generated by our commitment to green construction,” Lancaster said in a phone interview. “I think people are becoming more and more educated to the benefits of building a more green, energy-efficient home.”

Not only is it more work for him, but Lancaster said it means more jobs for electricians, masons and plumbers.

The Maryland Clean Energy Center recently released the results of a survey that shows the state’s clean energy industry adding jobs in 2012.

Nearly half of the 179 surveyed businesses expect to employ more workers this year compared with 2011. Another one-third of businesses will see stable employment figures.

“That is good news,” said Kathy Magruder, executive director of the Maryland Clean Energy Center. “It tells us that job creation is happening and the industry is growing. … People are starting to adopt these practices and implement these measures in their lives, which creates demand for the employment.”

Magruder said she doesn’t have a complete inventory of clean-energy companies in the state, but said the Rockville-based agency’s database holds more than 400.

“What’s great about this kind of economic development is it is fostering sustainability,” Magruder said. “We’re providing economic impact that is beneficial to communities.”

New skills

Frederick County is in the middle of a program designed to train workers to learn or enhance skills related to green and sustainable jobs.

Through a $243,452 grant from the Maryland Energy Sector Partnership, Frederick County Workforce Services is looking to train more than 75 workers in skills leading to job placement or retention.

To date, the agency has processed 25 applications. Grant funding for this specific program expires in January.

“Energy efficiency touches many different sectors,” said Kelli Goetz, green jobs navigator for Frederick County Workforce Services. “Our goal is to bring training to unemployed or under-employed workers who can use their skills to get a job.”

To qualify, applicants must be at least 18 years old and a resident of Maryland. Details on the program are available at the agency’s website.

“We look at clean energy as an emerging job sector in Frederick County,” Goetz said. “Businesses are embracing responsible use of energy. … We’re also seeing employers delivering contracts for installing energy-efficient systems.”

The work is being done at both commercial and residential properties, including new construction and retrofits, she said.

Goetz said she hopes to see the program continue to grow, even after the grant funding expires.

“We see the value,” Goetz said. “We see the demand for it.”

Shannon Moore, who heads Frederick County’s Office of Sustainability, said the industry will only continue to grow and lead to more job opportunities.

“As the financial market gets better, the outlook for Frederick County for retrofits gets higher,” Moore said. “The good news is it’s getting easier to borrow money again and the economy is stronger.”

It has become more cost-effective to get the work done, Moore said. Utility companies are offering incentives to homeowners and grants or tax credits are available to offset some of the costs.

For Lancaster, who said the insulation work completed last week will reduce energy consumption in the East Fifth Street home by 50 percent, it’s all about providing a service that people want.

In a tough economy, clients want to see cost savings, Lancaster said.

“Where fuel prices have been, it has become a major concern,” Lancaster said. “We can show them the return on investment and the increased comfort level.”

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