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Refrigerator retrofits create California jobs, save energy

Posted Aug 27 2010 11:11am

The EnergySmart Jobs program is a three-pronged approach to creating “green jobs” for Californians while also increasing energy efficiency at businesses around the state. | File photo


A major grant from the California Energy Commission combines “green jobs” training for hundreds of Californians and increased energy efficiency at state businesses.

The EnergySmart Jobs program, led by Portland Energy Conservation, Inc. (PECI), is a three-pronged approach to creating “green jobs” for Californians while also increasing energy efficiency at businesses around the state. It takes two different groups—around 200 experienced contractors and roughly 200 young people just entering the workforce —and provides them with “green jobs” training. Those 400 people will then be put to work installing energy-saving technologies at about 5,000 businesses with refrigerator cases— the refrigerated areas where grocery stores and others keep perishable items and cold beverages.

For this work, PECI and its partners were awarded $18.8 million from the State Energy Program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. PECI expects about $900,000 more in private funds and other contributions.

“The EnergySmart Jobs program is not simply a training program, although training is a major component,” says Bill McNamara, a director overseeing EnergySmart Jobs for PECI. “It’s actually a job creation and job retention program that focuses on energy savings, of which training is a major part.”

Green Workforce Development

EnergySmart Jobs has two job training programs: one for employees of contractors and one for people who are just entering the workforce. Each program will train about 200 people. For the contractors, PECI will provide training in how to install the energy-saving technologies that will be used with the refrigerator cases. That training will be offered in several places around California. Once they finish their training, the contractor employees will return to their employers and arrange privately to do the installation work on the refrigerator cases.

The other job training program is a partnership with the California Conservation Corps, a state agency that helps 18 to 23-year-olds get job training and some hands-on work experience. After an orientation with the CCC, corps members attend training with PECI to become energy surveyors— a job that McNamara describes as a less complex version of energy auditing.

These newly trained energy surveyors will use their skills to survey the stores before they get the refrigerator case retrofits. After the new technologies are installed, the corps members will also do post-installation energy surveys to ensure that everything is working as expected. When they finish their apprenticeships, they can be placed with private contractors at the journeyman level to continue their on-the-job training.

“In this way,” McNamara says, “young people can not only gain new skills, but actually get jobs that are created to use those skills.”

Saving with new technology

Meanwhile, businesses with refrigerator cases will receive energy efficiency technologies projected to save at least 88,103 megawatt-hours of electricity and at least 37,576 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

To achieve those energy savings, the program will install energy efficient technologies in refrigerator cases at businesses around the state. This can include new technologies, like light-motion sensors, but will also include improvements to the existing refrigeration apparatus and the lights in and around the cases.

McNamara says these retrofits will provide a foundation for future careers as well as energy savings.

“[Trainees are] being placed into the contractor workforce that actually does the retrofits that the program promotes,” he says. “So unlike many job training programs... [EnergySmart Jobs] actually trains initially, continues through an apprenticeship period and continues that opportunity going forward.”

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