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Originally published Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 5:42 PM

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Stimulus funds going for green jobs in state

Washington state will receive another piece of the $787 billion federal stimulus spending package, this time a $6 million grant to train workers in energy-efficient construction jobs.

Seattle Times Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Washington state will receive another piece of the $787 billion federal stimulus spending package, this time a $6 million grant to train workers in energy-efficient construction jobs.

The money will be used to pay for 4,700 veterans, disabled or low-income adults and other residents to get certified to work in green industries — one of the fields targeted for investment under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Obama last February.

The grant was announced Wednesday by U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis twice, once with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and separately with U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island.

Murray said the grant would help the state capitalize on growing demand for energy auditors, insulation installers and other clean-energy jobs.

"Washington is uniquely situated to become a leader in the field of green energy," Murray said. But "we have to build the workforce before we do anything else."

Such jobs now account for a tiny fraction, or about 25,000 workers, of the total employment in Washington, said Tim Sweeney, spokesman for the Washington State Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, recipient of the latest recovery grant.

But Sweeney said Washington in particular has a need for green-energy workers. The state, for instance, has adopted regulations requiring most utilities to draw 15 percent of their energy from solar, wind, biomass or other alternative sources by 2020. It also has set gradually rising energy-efficiency standards for commercial and residential construction.

"In this recession, the construction and building-maintenance jobs that are most likely to be in short supply are the green jobs, and as we come out of the recession, these will be the jobs that will be most in demand," Sweeney said.

On Wednesday, the Washington state House passed a bill that would ask voters to decide whether to sell $860 million in bonds to finance energy-efficiency projects mostly at public schools, colleges and universities. Republicans oppose the measure, saying it would add to the state's debt.

The federal stimulus grant is one of several the state has landed for green industries recently. One, a $4 million award to Tukwila nonprofit group Sustainable Works, will be spent in part to retrofit homes in Seattle's Ravenna and Wedgwood neighborhoods to make them more energy-efficient.

The work — which can include adding insulation, sealing air pockets and upgrading heating systems — can cost $2,000 to $6,000 per home, said Steve Gelb, executive director of Sustainable Works. The stimulus grant, Gelb said, will allow the group to subsidize that cost to residents and in some cases pay for it in full.

In all, about a third of the $787 billion in the Recovery Act is earmarked for creating or sustaining jobs around the nation. Much of that money is going to rebuilding roads and bridges, upgrading mass-transit systems and other infrastructure work.

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The other two-thirds of the money is being spent on tax cuts and benefits, such as extending unemployment benefits and credits for homebuyers, as well as higher federal aid for education and health coverage.

Washington credits money from the Recovery Act with preserving or creating 34,500 jobs — most of them teaching positions funded by the state — more than any other state except California and New York. But in terms of dollars, the biggest share of the money has been allocated for cleaning up the Hanford nuclear reservation near Richland.

The recovery grants are supposed to be awarded competitively, without regard for congressional distribution. Murray and Inslee each helped to get funding for green jobs inserted into the Recovery Act.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report. Kyung Song: 202-662-7455 or ksong@seattletimes.com.

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