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Alternative Energy Industry Expected To Take Off

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said Monday that new government incentives will kick-start hiring in the fledgling alternative energy industry as companies regain confidence.

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said Monday that she believes hiring in the alternative energy industry will pick up in the next 12 months, but it will take longer than that for so-called green jobs to become a bigger part of the U.S. job market.

Solis told The Associated Press that new government incentives will kick-start hiring in the fledgling industry as companies regain confidence and find it easier to borrow money.

"Once you start seeing more investments made in our economy recovering, as we stabilize and we get people back to work, then I think there'll be more interest in expanding," Solis said. "There'll be more, hopefully, credit available for this expansion, because there will be more confidence because that's what we're lacking right now -- that investment and confidence in the market."

After a terrible start to the year there are signs of a rebound for alternative energy, in part because of a push from the Obama administration.

The second National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas drew a high-profile list of alternative energy backers, including former President Bill Clinton, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"The economic crisis, the security crisis and the climate crisis are all intertwined, and the common thread running through them is our absurd and dangerous overdependence on carbon-based fuels," said Al Gore, Clinton's vice president.

"If your grab hold of that thread and pull on it all three of these crises will unravel, and we'll hold in our hand the solution to all three of them -- that is to make a transition to a low-carbon economy and to put people to work doing it," he said.

Venture capitalists increased investments in alternative energy by 73 percent over the past three months compared with the first three months of the year, according to a report issued late last month by Ernst & Young LLP. Yet investors are still shaken and the money flowing into green energy companies remains meager compared with last year at this time.

Polls have shown that as the economy worsened, Americans were less enthusiastic about environmental policies that would come at the expense of jobs and a better economy.

That has created a rift between political leaders at the state and federal levels as to how aggressively the U.S. should push green jobs.

Money had already begun to flow into the sector at a record pace last year before new government initiatives were announced, but also before the full weight of the recession became apparent.

Wind, solar and other alternative energy companies have been forced to cut back on workers. Projects were canceled as credit markets froze and venture capital evaporated.

John Woolard, president and CEO of Bright Source Energy, Inc., said his company and competitors looking to develop high-scale solar energy projects need the full support of lawmakers press ahead with its projects and immediately create jobs.

"We need to transition from visionary leadership to roll-up-your-sleeves leadership," Woolard said.

The Obama administration last week announced $2.4 billion in federal grants to develop next-generation electric vehicles and batteries.

Michigan, which has been devastated by job losses in the auto industry, would see companies within its borders get $1 billion in federal grants with the administration pushing green jobs as part of its economic cure.

The alternative energy sector could spark a new "industrial revolution," with better prospects for minorities and new training for workers with traditional vocational skills, Solis said.

There has rapid growth in the industry, but employment in the green business still makes up only half of one percent of all jobs.

Solis said that slice would grow not only as more jobs are created, but as officials identify more existing positions that have become green jobs.

"It affects every facet of our life," Solis said. "So without a doubt it will have a much greater impact than the 1 percent that we're talking about."

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