By Andrew Maykuth

Inquirer Staff Writer

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission yesterday approved a Peco Energy Co. proposal to buy solar-energy credits for 10 years, which officials expect will substantially boost the nascent market for renewable energy.

The ruling allows the Philadelphia utility to begin buying alternative-energy credits to comply with a law that forces utilities to derive a gradually increasing portion of their power from renewable-energy sources.

PUC chairman James H. Cawley commended Peco “for taking the initiative to kick-start the process.” The state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act requires electrical utilities to buy 18 percent of their power from alternative-energy sources by 2020.

The market for solar alternative-energy credits has been “very thin and very illiquid” because the laws requiring utilities to buy solar power are only starting to kick in, according to Mike Freeman, senior originator of Exelon Generation Co. L.L.C., the wholesale power arm of Peco’s parent company, Exelon Corp.

Peco’s planned purchase of 80,000 credits over 10 years – each credit represents one megawatt-hour of power, or about as much as a residential customer would consume in a summer – should provide a strong signal to solar builders about the value of their projects, which will assist long-term financing.

“This is a fairly significant event in the solar world,” Freeman said of the decision.

Renewable-energy credits are sold by electric generators for every one megawatt-hour of renewable power they produce, apart from the income they derive from selling the electricity itself.

Peco said it would competitively purchase the credits through requests for proposals. The energy must be generated within the area served by the regional grid, PJM Interconnection L.L.C., which covers parts of 13 states.

Though the market for the credits is not fully established, the PUC estimates their value at $230 each – and some experts say the price will probably exceed $300 each. That means Peco’s investment could exceed $24 million.

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By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: August 26, 2009
Opponents suggest that a “government takeover” of health care will be a milestone on the road to “socialized medicine,” and when he hears those terms, Wendell Potter cringes. He’s embarrassed that opponents are using a playbook that he helped devise.

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Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Nicholas D. Kristof

“Over the years I helped craft this messaging and deliver it,” he noted.

Mr. Potter was an executive in the health insurance industry for nearly 20 years before his conscience got the better of him. He served as head of corporate communications for Humana and then for Cigna.

He flew in corporate jets to industry meetings to plan how to block health reform, he says. He rode in limousines to confabs to concoct messaging to scare the public about reform. But in his heart, he began to have doubts as the business model for insurance evolved in recent years from spreading risk to dumping the risky.

Then in 2007 Mr. Potter attended a premiere of “Sicko,” Michael Moore’s excoriating film about the American health care system. Mr. Potter was taking notes so that he could prepare a propaganda counterblast — but he found himself agreeing with a great deal of the film.

A month later, Mr. Potter was back home in Tennessee, visiting his parents, and dropped in on a three-day charity program at a county fairgrounds to provide medical care for patients who could not afford doctors. Long lines of people were waiting in the rain, and patients were being examined and treated in public in stalls intended for livestock.

“It was a life-changing event to witness that,” he remembered. Increasingly, he found himself despising himself for helping block health reforms. “It sounds hokey, but I would look in the mirror and think, how did I get into this?”

Mr. Potter loved his office, his executive salary, his bonus, his stock options. “How can I walk away from a job that pays me so well?” he wondered. But at the age of 56, he announced his retirement and left Cigna last year.

This year, he went public with his concerns, testifying before a Senate committee investigating the insurance industry.

“I knew that once I did that my life would be different,” he said. “I wouldn’t be getting any more calls from recruiters for the health industry. It was the scariest thing I have done in my life. But it was the right thing to do.”

Mr. Potter says he liked his colleagues and bosses in the insurance industry, and respected them. They are not evil. But he adds that they are removed from the consequences of their decisions, as he was, and are obsessed with sustaining the company’s stock price — which means paying fewer medical bills.

One way to do that is to deny requests for expensive procedures. A second is “rescission” — seizing upon a technicality to cancel the policy of someone who has been paying premiums and finally gets cancer or some other expensive disease. A Congressional investigation into rescission found that three insurers, including Blue Cross of California, used this technique to cancel more than 20,000 policies over five years, saving the companies $300 million in claims.

As The Los Angeles Times has reported, insurers encourage this approach through performance evaluations. One Blue Cross employee earned a perfect evaluation score after dropping thousands of policyholders who faced nearly $10 million in medical expenses.

Mr. Potter notes that a third tactic is for insurers to raise premiums for a small business astronomically after an employee is found to have an illness that will be very expensive to treat. That forces the business to drop coverage for all its employees or go elsewhere.

All this is monstrous, and it negates the entire point of insurance, which is to spread risk.

The insurers are open to one kind of reform — universal coverage through mandates and subsidies, so as to give them more customers and more profits. But they don’t want the reforms that will most help patients, such as a public insurance option, enforced competition and tighter regulation.

Mr. Potter argues that much tougher regulation is essential. He also believes that a robust public option is an essential part of any health reform, to compete with for-profit insurers and keep them honest.

As a nation, we’re at a turning point. Universal health coverage has been proposed for nearly a century in the United States. It was in an early draft of Social Security.

Yet each time, it has been defeated in part by fear-mongering industry lobbyists. That may happen this time as well — unless the Obama administration and Congress defeat these manipulative special interests. What’s un-American isn’t a greater government role in health care but an existing system in which Americans without insurance get health care, if at all, in livestock pens.

Our Perspective:

The topic of Health care is once again at the forefront. It is sad to think, that in 2009, America is still unable to provide basic medical care to all its’ citizens.

Believe it or not, we pay for it already. Those who actually have insurance, pay a fee to help offset the cost of the uninsured.

Our emergency rooms were becoming a haven for the uninsured until the hospitals started charging $75 to $100 upfront to provide services.

What do we do? Let’s drop the partisan bickering. All of Congress agree on at least 80% of the provisions that should be in a healtyh care reform bill.  Let’s begin there. This does not have to be done all at one time. Most major initiative are done over time anyway.

Let us start with providing the basic care and catastophic coverages that should be made available to all our citizens and then look to define it further over time.

Here’s an idea! Why not look at setting up clinics and using our med students to work from there. Many of these students graduate with huge loan balances that must be paid off over time. Why not provide an incentive to help them pay down a portion of these loans in exchange for the services provided,  while also paying them a small stipend for their service.

We must address this issue now. I have the the insurance come back each year raising their rates so that their clients must drop down to a lesser coverage. Raise the co pays, increase the out of pocket. It is all a game.

I am all for making money but I am also for doing what is right. Health Care reform is the right thing to do. Let’s hope Congress doesn’t screw this up!

Let us know tyour thoughts. You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com

 

Deregulated Savings in NJ

August 13, 2009

In 1998, The Department of Energy implemented deregulation of utilities to encourage competition.  It has proven to be an avenue for increased earning for many of our clients.

By analyzing data and shopping your account, we can provide significant savings.  Many of our clients have enjoyed a 10% to 40% savings in both the gas and electric market. 

You may be a candidate for increased profitability, too!

 Gas / Electric


Gas and electric are traded commodities and their prices are very sensitive. Hutchinson Business Solutions (HBS) will take the necessary steps to position your company properly to take advantage of this opportunity. 

Currently, your local provider buys gas and electric on the open market wholesale and then sells it to you retail. We are able to put you in the wholesale position! 

 We will complete a full analysis, outlining your current rates. We will provide you with a timely proposal that offers significant savings only available by locking-in your utility supply cost. 

The savings falls to the bottom line!

Let us add your name to our success story!

 Email george@hbsadvantage.com or call 856-857-1230

Do you feel you are being held captive each month when you pay your natural gas and electric bill? 

Have you looked at the current savings opportunity in the New Jersey Commercial and Industrial deregulated market?

Our clients are saving from 10% upto 40%, depending on the size of the account.

Just last week we signed a contract to save a local commercial real estate manager over $300,000 on their electric supply cost over the next year.

Needless to say, they were very excited.

Last month we signed gas and electric contracts with a local restaurant chain. Combined saving will be over $100,000.

 How many meals would you have to sell to add that to the bottom line?

Also last month, we signed gas and electric  contract with a multi location non profit school for the disabled. Annual saving was over $90,000.

So I ask again, Do you feel you are being held captive?

 The opportunity to save is now available.

Let us add your company to the list of success stories.

Would you like to know more? email george@hbsadvantage.com or call 856-857-1230

ESolar is here

August 10, 2009

idealab

Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
Idealab’s Bill Gross is reflected in a solar tracking mirror on the firm’s rooftop in Pasadena. His ESolar opens an innovative energy facility today in Lancaster.
Entrepreneur Bill Gross’ Pasadena firm has had its ups and downs. But it is energized since turning to clean tech, including ESolar, which is opening an innovative solar power facility in Lancaster.
By Alana Semuels  As reported in LA Times
August 5, 2009

The hundreds of glass mirrors break the dusty field in Lancaster, a sea of silver in a landscape of brown.

When switched on for the first time today at an opening gala with investors, local politicians and others, they’ll make up the first operational solar tower energy facility in the United States.

They reflect the sun into a tower in the middle of the field, boiling water into steam that travels through pipes to power a turbine and create electricity. The plant, created by Pasadena company ESolar Inc., will be able to power 4,000 homes.

The strength of the small field of mirrors is surprising, but what might be more surprising is the technology’s source. It was established by Pasadena incubator Idealab, a 1996 creation of entrepreneur Bill Gross. Gross, whom Time magazine once called the “man with a billion dollar brain,” generated some big hits with GoTo.com, Internet Brands Inc. and Cooking.com, along with such misses as Eve.com and EToys.

Idealab, which has counted director Steven Spielberg and actor Michael Douglas among its backers, has been spreading its reach to the green technology sector.

In the last three years, it has created RayTracker Inc., a solar tracking solution for photovoltaic systems; Distributed World Power, which designs solar systems for developing countries; Aptera Motors, which designs fuel-efficient cars; and ESolar.

It is jumping into the environmental market as venture capital is flowing more into clean-tech companies. Investment in such firms shot up 73% in the second quarter from the previous quarter, according to Ernst & Young, and is expected to continue growing.

The percentage of clean-tech investments to total investor funding has increased to double digits over the last three years, said Doug Regnier, an Ernst & Young partner leading its Pacific Southwest clean-tech consulting business.

Energy “is probably the biggest opportunity of the century,” Gross said. “The world’s energy needs and the demand to make that clean energy is going to be a challenge and an opportunity for smart entrepreneurs.”

Though focused on computer software for two decades, Gross said he returned to his passion for solar energy in 2000 as power shortages loomed. The Caltech graduate bought the restaurant next door to Idealab and turned it into a machine shop, eventually running solar experiments on the roof. Idealab’s first clean-tech firm, Energy Innovations, was created in 2001 to convert solar applications for commercial use. Idealab hired 50 people in the next three years to work on such ideas as a fuel-saving car and a portable solar device for developing countries.

The concept for ESolar came about as Idealab engineers started thinking about ways to provide cost-efficient solar energy for utilities and realized that most solar panels in commercial use were too big to be cost-efficient.

“We tried to figure out the angle we could exploit where we can zig where other people zag,” Gross said.

They came up with what Gross calls an unorthodox plan: “Go small.” Rather than make giant solar panels, they sized them at one square meter. That made the panels easier to install, putting them together like Legos rather than erecting a giant solar facility.

The smaller mirrors also are able to be aimed more quickly at the boiler target, said Michael Liebelson, head of the low-carbon development group at NRG Energy Inc., which is building plants using ESolar technology. Idealab’s software expertise helped it devise a way to manipulate the mirrors for better precision, he said.

“ESolar has one of the most, if not the most, innovative solar thermal technologies out there,” Liebelson said.

The ESolar plant in Lancaster went up on the barren desert site in 18 months, said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. He’s trying to make his city a center for alternative energy. “For an alternative energy to go on the line in 18 months, it’s literally unheard of,” he said.

ESolar has lined up more than $130 million in investments from such firms as NRG, ACME Group, Google’s philanthropic arm and Oak Investment Partners.

For Gross, ESolar’s effort is a sign that the interest in solar is growing — and that Idealab still has its knack for building companies and persuading venture capitalists to invest, even in a tough economy.

And it helps Gross regain a foothold after mutual fund giant T. Rowe Price and others sued him in 2002, alleging self-dealing and fraud, and shareholders bailed him out in 2006 after he failed to repay a $50-million personal loan.

“The biggest factor is when you’ve demonstrated that you can take a company from revenue to profit to successful exit,” he said. “That makes an investor comfortable that you can do it again.”

By Andrew Maykuth

Inquirer Staff Writer

Peco Energy Co. yesterday offered its vision of the electrical grid of the future:

In a few years, “smart” electric meters will be able to do much more than measure the power consumed in customers’ homes. They will tell customers how much money they are spending on electricity in real time, and offer options for cutting costs.

“Your air conditioner will be able to talk to your dishwasher and sequence their usage to save money,” Glenn Pritchard, a Peco engineer, said as he surveyed a table of meters and thermostats at the utility’s Center City headquarters.

At his Souderton home, Pritchard is testing a wireless model that supplies a weather report on its digital readout. His children’s favorite is a 9-inch-high, Web-enabled plastic rabbit that can be programmed to flash red and wiggle its ears when the price of power is getting dear.

If all goes as planned, Peco will connect 600,000 customers to smart meters in three years.

The utility announced plans to spend $650 million in the next 10 years to upgrade its transmission and distribution system to incorporate “smart-grid” technology. The improvements include fiber-optic and wireless-communications systems to enable the smart meters.

To accelerate the rollout, the company applied for $200 million in federal stimulus money from the U.S. Department of Energy, which is administering the $3.3 billion Smart Grid Investment Grant Program.

“This isn’t your father’s old utility anymore, and I can say that as my father worked here for 35 years before me,” said Peco president Denis O’Brien.

The investment will generate customer savings of $500 million over 10 years and $1.5 billion over the expected 25-year life of the equipment, O’Brien said, as well as create employment equal to 4,300 “job-years.”

Peco will have competition for the stimulus money, though. Yesterday was the deadline for smart-grid applications, and other utilities also announced proposals.

Public Service Electric & Gas Co. in New Jersey applied for a $76 million grant to fund half of a $152 million project to improve the grid’s reliability and protect it against cyberattacks.

PSE&G’s plans also include communications technology that would allow for the eventual integration of plug-in electric vehicles, small-scale wind and solar generation, and smart meters.

PPL Electric Utilities Corp., of Allentown, has proposed a $38 million pilot project – half of it funded by stimulus money – that would introduce 60,000 Harrisburg customers to smart technology.

Most of the smart-grid improvements would be invisible to customers, incorporating advanced switches and digital equipment that would increase the system’s reliability, efficiency, and security from attack.

The power companies are responding to increasing pressure to meet emerging emission-reduction goals. A new Pennsylvania law requires utilities to reduce electrical-output production 3 percent by 2013 and cut peak-demand load 4.5 percent. It also provides for utilities to recoup their expenses through higher rates.

Next week, Pennsylvania’s utilities must disclose their smart-meter deployment plans, which will set the stage for discounting power during off-peak hours to encourage customers to shift consumption away from times when the electrical system’s generation and distribution systems are stressed.

Peco is still examining equipment options and pricing plans. Customers will be able to opt to keep the current flat-rate pricing scheme.

Part of Peco’s grant proposal is to incorporate a pilot project for clients of the Philadelphia Housing Authority that would become a model for low-income customers. Liberty Property Trusts and Drexel University have also signed on to integrate properties into the Peco network more efficiently.

Residential customers may have an array of smart-meter options. They might range from simple devices that provide a color-coded light signal to curtail power during peak hours to sophisticated ones that tie in major appliances so that customers could volunteer to allow Peco to remotely manage their use during peak hours.

Or customers might be able to manage their home thermostats through the Internet, or even a wireless handheld device such as a BlackBerry.

“When we all see the meter running . . . we will all be able to manage our energy much more effectively and efficiently,” O’Brien said.

August 6, 2009

Written by Michael Grabell and Jennifer La Fleur as reported in ProPublica

Since the economic stimulus bill passed nearly six months ago, the Obama administration has repeatedly pledged that the money would reach middle America, seeping into the communities hardest hit by the recession.

But analysis of the most comprehensive list of stimulus spending to date found no relationship between where the money is going and unemployment and poverty.

Stimulus spending is literally all over the map, according to ProPublica’s analysis, which examined nearly all the contracts, grants and loans the government has reported awarding. Some battered counties are hauling in large amounts, while others that are just as hard hit have received little.

Take Trigg County, Ky. [2], where unemployment was 15.8 percent in June after the auto industry crisis rippled among suppliers. The stimulus has chipped in $1 million toward a biofuels facility and $30 million for a road project. According to the data, the county has been awarded $2,419 per resident.

But LaGrange County, Ind. [3], hasn’t fared so well. Despite having the identical unemployment rate, it has received only $33 a person. The community is still trying to recover after recreational vehicle plants shuttered last fall. Yet the stimulus has provided little more than the education and rural housing money that every county is scheduled to receive.

For months now, Democrats and Republicans have debated whether the stimulus is trickling down to communities that need it most. Much of the available evidence has been anecdotal, however, or based on studies that examined only transportation spending or a smaller list of projects.

The debate accelerates today as President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visit Elkhart, Ind., and Detroit for a progress report on the economy that will again highlight the stimulus. What the available data show is that spending is uneven and sometimes runs contrary to measures of need.

Elizabeth Oxhorn, the White House stimulus spokeswoman, said much of the money thus far has moved through existing grant formulas that don’t take into account regional economic swings. But as some newer stimulus programs kick in — such as economic development grants and money to hire police officers — there will be more discretion in where to send dollars, she said.

“Where we do have opportunities to target assistance and programs that are meant to help hard-hit areas, we have done that, particularly in the hard-hit auto communities,” Oxhorn said.

First Look at County-Level Spending

Overall, the stimulus program will pump $787 billion into the economy, including tax cuts.

To assess what has happened so far, ProPublica combined all the data on the federal stimulus Web site, Recovery.gov, with reports from other government sources into a list totaling $120 billion worth of stimulus spending. Of that, ProPublica examined $55 billion that could be traced to the county level.

Getting a complete accounting of the stimulus is nearly impossible because some of its largest elements — tax cuts for individuals, increases in Medicaid and unemployment — aren’t being tracked to the local level or have yet to be distributed by the states.

While those programs clearly benefit individuals hurt by the recession, they aren’t intended to create or sustain many jobs, as with dollars aimed at infrastructure or schools. The 7 percent of overall stimulus funding in ProPublica’s analysis is the broadest, most complete snapshot of spending to date.

The largest categories are highway projects, Pell Grants for low-income college students and funding to school districts for disadvantaged students. The data also include airport grants, small business loans, housing assistance, nuclear cleanup and military construction contracts.

ProPublica tested the relationship between spending per person and several socioeconomic and demographic factors across more than 3,100 counties and equivalent areas, such as Louisiana parishes, to see if there was a statistically significant pattern in the way money has been allocated.

Nationwide, the results showed no significant relationship across counties when spending was compared against unemployment, poverty, race and income. Looking within state boundaries, spending did have a relationship to unemployment in a few cases — but not always in the same direction.

In New Jersey [4], for example, counties with high unemployment were more likely to get more stimulus money per person. The opposite proved true in Michigan [5], which has the nation’s highest jobless rate at 15.2 percent. A searchable list of county stimulus projects and demographics is here. [6]

Nuclear Cleanups Boost Rural Counties

The biggest winner so far — at nearly $12,000 per resident — is Thomas County [7], an area of 583 people in the Nebraska Sandhills. Unemployment there is 4.8 percent, about half the national rate.

Judy Taylor, chairwoman of the Village Board in Thedford, said the majority of residents consider the main stimulus project, a $7 million viaduct over the railroad tracks, a waste of money.

“Out here, there seems to be plenty of work for people,” said Janice Hodges, whose family owns a gas station nearby. “It probably could have been better used somewhere else.”

Overall, the counties faring the best in the stimulus program are sparse communities with a giant road project — such as Brooks County [8], Texas, or Hocking County [9], Ohio — as one expensive project to a county with few people can skew per-capita figures.

Other counties doing well are home to Cold War weapons plants. The stimulus includes $6 billion to clean up and dispose of waste in 12 states, and those were among the first contracts awarded.

Thanks to the massive cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Benton County, Wash. [10], has received more than $1.5 billion — second only to Los Angeles County‘s [11] $2 billion in total funding so far. Benton County’s per capita spending: $9,300.

In metro areas, per-capita spending varies. LA County’s funding equates to $215 per person. New York County [12], which covers Manhattan, is receiving $610; its neighbor, the Bronx, is getting $185. Palm Beach County, Fla., is receiving $57, and Wayne County, Mich., epicenter of the auto industry meltdown, has received $183 per resident — about the national average for spending that could be tracked to the county level.

Some well-off counties are benefiting greatly.

Summit County, Utah [13], home to Park City and several upscale ski resorts, is one of the wealthiest counties in the country with a median household income of $83,000. Under the stimulus so far, it’s received $659 per person.

The money includes a $15 million interstate paving project, a $5 million bridge replacement, $1 million for sewers and sidewalks on Main Street in Coalville, and a $570,000 small-business loan to a Park City oral surgeon.

John Hanrahan, chairman of the Summit County Council, said the highway and bridge projects are in the rural part of the county and are mainly used by long-haul truckers rather than residents.

“It doesn’t necessarily help a farmer a lot for hay or gas,” he said. “It doesn’t affect the ski industry. We still have a significant portion of the population who are struggling with this recession.”

Hanrahan’s point underscores one of the basic uncertainties when determining who benefits from stimulus dollars. Money spent on a project doesn’t necessarily stay in the community. Construction workers often drive through several counties to job sites.

“People will live in one area and work in another,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Economy.com. “Some county in a region could be getting more money but it could have a beneficial impact on other counties in the region.”

Obama’s Pledge: Help Is on the Way

When Obama launched the stimulus package in February, he visited Elkhart, a city that had seen its jobless rate skyrocket from a 5.8 percent in October 2007 to 20.8 percent this March.

The next day, he visited Fort Myers, Fla., which had been pummeled by the foreclosure crisis. Since then, administration officials have repeatedly visited auto industry towns to promise help.

Trigg County is one struggling area that has seen a flood of stimulus money. The county, on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, northwest of Nashville, has about 13,000 residents but received $32.5 million.

The county’s largest manufacturer, Johnson Controls, made car seat frames until it closed in March, leaving 560 people out of work. But right on the heels of that shutdown came $30 million in federal money for an ongoing project to widen U.S. Highway 68.

That stimulus money freed state funds already pledged to the $55 million expansion, protecting the contractor’s current workforce. State officials said it might have stalled without the stimulus.

The U.S. Forest Service awarded $2 million in contracts to clean up the Land Between the Lakes recreation area, which had been devastated by an ice storm. The agency also gave the county a grant for a facility that will convert wood to fuel to power a local hospital.

“When you tally it up and see the dollars that will come into our area through the stimulus, it is working,” said Stan Humphries, Trigg County judge-executive. “It doesn’t move as fast as we would like or reach as many families as we would hope for. But we feel that we are getting our share of the funds.”

Big Pots of Money Hard to Track

Edmund Phelps, a Nobel laureate who is director of Columbia University’s Center on Capitalism and Society, said it’s no surprise that spending so far doesn’t relate to characteristics like employment or poverty. To get money out quickly, the government relied on funding formulas that aren’t designed for an economic downturn. “It’s kaleidoscopic,” he said of the stimulus. “And it was all done very quickly.”

Some of the largest pots of money — tax cuts, food stamps and Medicaid assistance — go to more than 100 million individuals, and government auditors are struggling to estimate the local impact.

“Can you send a man to Jupiter? In theory you can,” said J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration. “We could in theory track every dollar, but you have to consider the expense and the time it would take to do that.”

For other types of spending programs — such as the $54 billion to stabilize state budgets and help local schools, or $6 billion to build water and sewage treatment plants — the money trail stops at the state governments, which are still deciding how to divvy up the funds. Only a fraction of the stabilization money has been sent to the states from Washington.

Other programs, such as transit grants, mask where the jobs are created. When the Akron, Ohio, transit authority bought 19 buses, for example, it created work at local rubber suppliers — but also at the plants that made the buses in Kansas, North Dakota and California.

“It’s difficult to take into account all of the different dimensions,” said Steve Murdock, a former Census Bureau director who is a professor of sociology at Rice University. “You have populations with various kinds of needs and local economies that reflect different kinds of conditions.”

Elkhart’s Poor Cousin Next Door

As Obama returns to Elkhart, he might want to consider LaGrange County just to the east.

While Elkhart County has been awarded about $169 per resident — a little less than the national average — LaGrange has received just $33 a person, according to the data.

Both counties saw their economies crater last year when high gas prices and tight credit made it difficult to sell recreational vehicles, a primary industry there. Dozens of factories, dealerships and suppliers shut down while thousands lost their jobs.

LaGrange County has several needed transportation and infrastructure projects, said Keith Gillenwater, the county’s economic development director. But so far, it has been shut out of any of the federal highway funding doled out by the state government.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “To me there’s a lot of disparity that should be re-examined and taken into consideration.”

 

ProPublica is America’s largest investigative newsroom.

By Jillian Berman, USA TODAY

Students interested in pursuing a job in sustainability now can choose from a variety of “green” degree programs.With an increased interest in the environment and growth in the “green collar” job sector, colleges and universities are beginning to incorporate sustainability into their programs. From MBAs in sustainable-business practices to programs that give students the technical training necessary to operate wind turbines, students have an increasing array of options to choose from.

 GOING GREEN: Strikes a chord with collegesVERMONT: Students dig into organic farmingIN-DEPTH: Get your eco-score, see latest environmental headlines

“Clearly, demand is there for these types of workers,” says Marisa Michaud of Eduventures, a higher-education research and consulting firm. “Colleges are seeing that, and they want to provide appropriate educational programs to meet that demand.”

 Concern for the environment is the motivation, says Julian Dautremont-Smith of the Association for Sustainability in Higher Education.

 FIND MORE STORIES IN: University of Pennsylvania | The Princeton Review | Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

“The past few years, society as a whole has become increasingly interested in sustainability,” he says. “Higher education has been swept up as well.”

 David Soto of The Princeton Review says student interest is driving colleges to create programs that offer training in sustainability. Two-thirds of students surveyed for the company’s recent “College Hopes and Worries” survey said a college’s “environmental commitment” would be a factor in where they applied.

 “Students are really savvy shoppers these days, so they’re realizing, with a changing economy and green jobs looking to take a leap within the next couple of years, that they want to be armed with those types of skills,” Soto says.

 Green — not greed — is good

 One popular program is an MBA that teaches skills for operating sustainable businesses.

A University of Pennsylvania program that started this year lets students earn an MBA and a master’s in environmental studies at the same time.

“There’s an increasing interest among businesses to take the environment seriously,” says Eric Orts, director of the Wharton School‘s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership at Penn.

 “Our take is you really need to have the science background and some other approaches that are not normally taught in the business school context,” he says.

 Architecture schools are responding to the increased interest in energy-efficient buildings.

 Christoph Reinhart, associate professor of architectural technology at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, says the school’s decision last summer to start offering a concentration in sustainable design was driven by interest from students and changes in the field.

 “Over the past few years, there has been an increased interest and pressure to provide this knowledge in more depth, whereas before, maybe a class would have been sufficient,” he says. “Now there’s an expectation that more of these skills are being learned.”

 Newly minted grads

 Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability graduated its first class in May. The school offers a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science in sustainability as well as a graduate degree.

 Charles Redman, the director of the School of Sustainability, says the school takes an interdisciplinary approach.

Student Drew Bryck says what drew him to the school was the opportunity to study biology, economics and a variety of other fields.

Bryck says he is “fairly confident” his degree will help him land a job because the need for people with a well-rounded background in sustainability is growing, especially in the private sector.

 The program resonates with students, Redman says; 300 undergraduates enrolled the first year it was offered.

 Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., will require all students to take at least one class that explores the human connection to the environment.

Dina El-Mogazi, director of the Campus Greening Initiative, says courses in a variety of disciplines will fulfill the requirement.

We feel that it’s very important, given the current state of the world, that students understand both the way the environment supports human life and the way human decisions” affect the environment’s ability to function.

 A growing number of schools, including community colleges, are training students to operate green technology.

 Kalamazoo (Mich.) Valley Community College will offer a 26-week program starting in October to train students in operating wind turbines.

 Jim DeHaven, vice president for economic and business development at the college, says the school is offering the program to meet the needs of wind farms that are “scrambling” for trained technicians.

 “They can really write their own future at this point because they’re needed at all the wind farms,” he says. “They don’t want us to wait and put people through a two-year program or a one-year certification — they want a fast track to employment.”