Troy the Turbine Builder: Managing the New Energy Economy

by Clint Wilder on December 19, 2008

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For better or worse, we all know Joe the Plumber. But have you heard of Troy the Turbine Builder?

That would be Troy Galloway of Hollsopple, Pennsylvania, who works at the Gamesa wind turbine plant in the nearby town of Ebensburg. Unlike Joe, Mr. Galloway is an actual turbine builder, goes by his first name, has never owed back taxes, and voted for Barack Obama for president.

Galloway, married with four children, worked in the steel industry for some 15 years, suffered a layoff and was retrained for work in the Gamesa facility. He’s the subject of a brief web video produced by Clean Tech & Green Business for Obama, a campaign group formed last summer to organize the clean tech industry for fund-raising while advising and supporting the campaign’s New Energy Economy efforts.

In its four months of existence before Election Day, Clean Tech & Green Business for Obama (known as ‘CT4O’ for short) raised upwards of $1.6 million from more than a thousand donors, while enlisting some 7,000 people as members (full disclosure: I’m one of them). CT4O’s honorary co-chairs include two people who’ve already been tapped to serve in the Obama administration: Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle and energy and climate czar Carol Browner.

CT4O’s success – the fact that it existed at all, really – is a testament to the growth and the maturing of clean tech as an important and potentially influential industry sector. It’s hard to imagine such a group gaining much traction with candidate John Kerry four years ago, when environmental and climate issues barely got a mention on the stump. In 2008, “solar, wind, and biodiesel” and “green-collar jobs” were nearly as ubiquitous in Obama’s speeches as “change.” What’s particularly encouraging is the president-elect’s belief that clean energy is the key to our economic and national security future as well as our environmental one.

So what’s next for CT4O? The group is staying engaged at a high level with Obama’s transition team, and exploring ways to continue in an advisory and advocacy capacity. Which brings us back to Troy the Turbine Builder. During the campaign, CT4O was active in 13 battleground states promoting the concept of clean tech as the cornerstone of recovery for the U.S. economy. So many swing states (or at least those considered swing at the start of the campaign) – Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin, to name a few – happen to be places where the hard-hit manufacturing base most needs a transition to something new. Where the presentation of clean tech as economic opportunity and job creation can best resonate with people and politicians.

Troy’s home of west central Pennsylvania, devastated by steel mill closings but partially revitalized by Gamesa turbine plants now employing some 1,200 people, is a great case in point. Similar stories abound across the country, some captured in a great New York Times article “A Splash of Green for the Rust Belt” that ran two days before Election Day. The saga of Toledo, Ohio’s recent transition from glass-making to solar panel manufacturing is all the more timely in light of the auto industry meltdown; Toledo’s business and civic leaders are scrambling to wean the once-proud “Auto Parts Capital of the World” from its decades-long dependence on Detroit.

CT4O wants to spotlight those stories and promote many more. These developments are good for the clean tech industry, good for the American worker, and ultimately good for the climate. And also good politics — especially making the case for clean tech as economic stimulus in purple and red states and Congressional districts. Examples like a new 600-employee solar plant in New Mexico, a cellulosic ethanol refinery in rural Georgia, or energy efficiency services through small business development centers in Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, and New York all help point the way toward the New Energy Economy that President Obama and the nation can (and must) build.

January 20 can’t come soon enough. The economic survival of millions of future Troy the Turbine Builders depends on it.

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