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Senators warn Mass. lacks the workers it needs for clean-energy transition

Lawmakers see a shortage of trained workers for solar, offshore wind, and other green industries the state will rely on to meet ambitious climate goals

Lawmakers are warning that Massachusetts has too-few workers trained in green-energy industries - such as installing solar panels - to meet the state's ambitious climate goals.Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe

Massachusetts has an ambitious goal to reduce carbon emissions over the coming decade. But the state will need a veritable army of blue-collar workers to pull it off.

For several state senators, a potential workforce shortage could stall the clean-energy transition. That’s why they fired off a letter on Thursday to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, calling for the quasi-public agency to take a comprehensive look at the state’s clean-energy workforce training options, and to offer plans not only to train people who already live here, but also attract workers from other states or countries to fill any gaps.

“I see a real threat here,” said state Senator Michael Barrett, co-chairman of the Legislature’s telecom and energy committee. “For Massachusetts, the new generation of essential workers will be the young person who wants to do hands-on work in clean energy, not in the front office but on the front lines. Massachusetts has not had a focus on being a welcoming place for young blue-collar workers. ... We have shortages as far as the eye can see and no plan to do much about it.”

The letter was initiated by Barrett’s office. He was joined by three other Senate committee chairs who signed the letter and provided input: Cynthia Stone Creem (climate change), Eric Lesser (economic development), and Patricia Jehlen (labor and workforce development).

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Barrett said the letter was sparked in part by the MassCEC’s own effort to help ensure greenhouse gas emissions are cut in half — from 1990 levels — by 2030 and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The agency recently sought bids for a consultant to help with its workforce development strategy, and is supposed to pick a winning bid later this month. Barrett said he hopes the concerns articulated in the letter can inform that process.

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In particular, Barrett worries that a consultant’s report will mainly focus on the sector’s demand for jobs, while giving a short shrift to the supply issue — that is, the state’s current training capacity and population base. The broader clean energy industry employs more than 100,000 people in Massachusetts. But Barrett fears the existing workforce will not come close to meeting the need.

In their letter, the senators express concern about workforce “supply bottlenecks” throttling growth in several key sectors of the clean-energy economy: retrofitting buildings, installing solar panels, developing and constructing offshore wind farms, shifting more people to mass transit and electric cars, and modernizing the electric grid. They write that nothing short of “our hopes for reducing emissions and reaching our climate goals hangs in the balance.”

Joe Curtatone, the new head of the Northeast Clean Energy Council, said he hasn’t heard much alarm yet among the companies he represents but there’s a widespread recognition that the state needs to bring many more people into these lines of work.

“The amount of investment is increasing exponentially,” Curtatone said. “This will be a missed opportunity if we’re not preparing as much in advance for that as we can.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him @jonchesto.