Grants & Scholarships
A challenge so big, there's only way to solve it: together
“Five years ago, if you had told me environmentalists would be working with labor, I would have laughed. The fact is that we have come together and are working to build a ‘just transition’ to green energy,” says Michael Roles, policy director at Climate Jobs Rhode Island (CJRI), a broad labor/environmental coalition committed to an equitable, pro-worker, pro-climate green economy. Earlier this year, the Rhode Island Foundation supported the organization to the tune of $75,000 to help them maximize current federal funding opportunities.
Climate change is widely acknowledged as one of humanity’s greatest and most urgent challenges. Rhode Island is uniquely positioned as a state to lead on these issues — in 2019, it had the lowest energy consumption per capita across all the United States. As a small state, Rhode Island can be innovative and nimble at implementing approaches to reverse climate change and inequality.
Experts agree that we are nowhere near having sufficient human capital with green talent, skills, or jobs to reach desirable climate targets. Union apprenticeship programs have waiting lists, high school career and technical programs have been neglected in favor of the college track, and community colleges are facing budget cuts.
In partnership with the Worker Institute at Cornell University, Climate Jobs Rhode Island has compiled a report that takes a comprehensive approach to limiting carbon emissions. It contains recommendations on retrofits, public transportation, renewable energy, and climate resilience: “Building a Just Transition for a Resilient Future: A Climate Jobs Program for Rhode Island.”
“Rhode Island has the potential to be the first state in the country to fully decarbonize and build out a net-zero economy with high-quality union jobs,” says Lara Skinner, Director, Labor Leading on Climate Initiative at the Worker Institute at Cornell.
“The transformation includes investing in individual workers to manage these projects, where new tasks, skills, and competencies are needed,” says Patrick Crowley, Co-Chair, CJRI and Secretary-Treasurer, Rhode Island AFL-CIO. “The transition to a green economy must offer durable and growing career pathways while it cleans the air.
“There are many very smart people working in this space,” says Crowley. “We didn’t have a template for doing this. Instead, we trusted people and said, ‘I don’t know anything about this issue. Can you help?’ There was no turf to protect, no preconceived notions. We had listening sessions. Environmental people are teaching us what resilience really means and we are telling them about prevailing wages and labor agreements.”
While the federal government has been and will continue to play a significant role in addressing climate change challenges, the bulk of the actual ‘green on the ground’ work will fall to states and cities. Training the next generation of green workers hinges on intentional, proactive local leadership. The onus is on local leaders to identify various sectors in need of talent and to collaborate with other institutional partners such as colleges, community-based organizations, and other groups essential to engaging new workers, training them, and providing supportive services.
“Climate Jobs Rhode Island has been bringing together the stakeholders—the state, cities, and towns—and they have been very responsive,” says Michael Roles. “We’ve been leveraging the strength of the Coalition, which is 100% bought in. When we run into brick walls, we find ways around them, using the political leverage of the environmental and labor movements.”
“When you are using union labor, the job is going to be done on time, and it’s going to be on budget,” says Crowley. “Could you do this without labor? Maybe, but I don’t think so.
“The whole premise is that we cannot wait to do this. We have an existential interest in making this happen. This is an opportunity to eliminate carbon emissions, increase equity, and create high-quality jobs to make Rhode Island’s economy stronger, fairer, and more inclusive.”
ROBIN HOLLOW SOLAR FARM
At the peak of its development, about 80 union electricians were working on the Robin Hollow Solar farm being built on 180 acres in West Greenwich. When operational, the solar project will generate about 60 megawatts, enough to power 6,800 households each year.
Now that it is nearing completion, about 40 union electricians are still on-site to connect the rows of panels to transformers that will send the solar energy to the grid.
Wayne Tait, assistant business manager of IBEW Local 99, talks about the rigors of training to be an electrician. “The work is hard and not everyone is cut out for it.” He explains that there is a four-year apprentice program. “This year we had the biggest class ever with 45 enrolled—you work a 40-hour week and attend classes six hours a week. But the pay is good and the benefits are excellent.”
“There are not enough people entering the construction trades to replace the people like me who are retiring from a lifetime of construction work,” says Kevin Grattan, training manager for Building Futures. He has been in the construction field for 36 years—“I was the kid who was always building things.”
Today he is supervising apprentices in the field—one of them has already been accepted into his union of choice. They are building two large single-family homes financed by the City of Central Falls with ARPA funds. All on this job site have been through the organization’s five-week construction apprenticeship program; several have gone through their Building Green Futures program as well.
“The construction trades have changed with the trends toward renewable, green, sustainable,” says Kevin. And not just the obvious like solar panels. Sustainable materials require different techniques for insulating vapor barriers and for air sealing, depending on the rating you are going for in a project—from passive to net zero to energy star certified.
“Now I am at a point where I want to help ‘build futures’—it’s a good fit for me. I like to see people take charge of their lives, find a career path. We are helping young men and women learn to build highways and bridges, commercial offices and houses, universities and hospitals.”
Rhode Island and Connecticut’s first utility-scale offshore windfarm will create thousands of direct and indirect jobs, as well as permanent operations and maintenance jobs across both states. Once complete, the 704-megawatt Revolution Wind will deliver 400 megawatts of clean, affordable offshore wind power to Rhode Island and 304 megawatts of the same to Connecticut, powering more than 350,000 homes across the two states and helping the states reach their climate goals.
The Danish company Ørsted has constructed a foundation component manufacturing facility at ProvPort; has partnered with two Rhode Island shipyards to build five crew-transfer vessels; has signed offshore wind helicopter agreement for new crew helicopters, including a $1.8 million investment in Quonset State Airport; and has invested $1 million in a training partnership with Community College of RI, RI Department of Labor & Training, RI Commerce, RI Building & Construction Trades Council, and Building Futures. The project is expected to be operational in 2025.
CLIMATE JOBS RHODE ISLAND COALITION MEMBERS
Rhode Island AFL-CIO, RI Building and Construction Trades Council, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, The Nature Conservancy, IUPAT DC 11, Green Energy Consumers Alliance, The Acadia Center, SEIU District 1199NE, IBEW Local 99, Clean Water Action, RI Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, National Education Association RI, Groundwork Rhode Island, LiUNA! Laborers’ NE Region, Building Futures RI, RI Environmental Education Association, RICOSH, Fuerza Laboral, Teamsters Local 251, ATU Local 618, Childhood Lead Action Project, PVD Streets Coalition, Carpenters Local 330, SMART Northeast Regional Council Local 17, Build RI, Conservation Law Foundation
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in Providence, Jenny grew to love the natural world and urban greenspaces like neighborhood parks. She received a B.A. in International Service and Economics at American University in Washington, D.C., and later earned an M.A. in Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island. As part of her graduate studies, she conducted research in Ecuador, exploring the social impacts of shrimp aquaculture on coastal households and communities. Jenny went on to serve as a project coordinator with the Clean Water Trust in D.C., working with boaters and fishermen on environmental issues and promoting practices that protect the marine environment.
Five years later, she returned to her home state of Rhode Island and became the first executive director of the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council in Providence, where she helped facilitate the development of the bike path, revitalize parks and green spaces, and clean up the Woonasquatucket, one of the country’s “American Heritage Rivers.” Her first grant was from the Rhode Island Foundation.
Jenny Pereira joined the Foundation in 2008 as a grant officer focused on environmental issues. The Wakefield resident now manages the Foundation’s discretionary and sector grants programs, as well as its staff and budget. Although her organizational responsibilities have broadened, Jenny remains a stalwart advocate for the environment.