Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016 | 2 a.m.
In the aftermath of the presidential election, much has been said about the need to bridge divides, build a new American economy and get the country back to work.
As a retired colonel of the United States Air Force, I’ve been thinking about the men and women I served with for 30 years, and those currently in uniform. I find myself asking how I can best serve my country now — and, perhaps improbably, how that desire connects to the clean-energy industry.
It’s no secret that many service members, once they return home, struggle to find jobs that enable them to use their unique technical and leadership skills and that help them continue to serve (and secure) their communities. Despite the debt our country owes them for their many sacrifices, we are failing to provide veterans with meaningful post-service careers in growing fields.
As a Nevadan, I believe we have a special opportunity to develop good-paying, local solar jobs for our state’s heroes.
As the host of several military bases and facilities, including two in Southern Nevada, our state is home to more than 225,000 veterans, who constitute 7 percent of our population. We have a large network of veterans and soon-to-be-discharged members looking for well-paying, skilled jobs. We also have an abundance of sunny, cloudless days, ideal for developing renewable power and attracting businesses investing in solar energy. And the solar industry, booming throughout the country and once growing rapidly throughout the Silver State, helped answer that call.
Just one year ago, nearly 9,000 Nevadans were employed by solar companies, with 9 percent of those jobs going to veterans. The solar industry was booming: jobs grew by 48.5 percent just in 2015, and Nevada was No. 1 in the nation for number of solar jobs per capita. Veterans worked in wide-ranging positions, from warehouse managers to system installers and inspection leads.
Our service members were able to take advantage of a new economic potential and find meaningful work. Beyond providing a steady income for their families, these jobs helped veterans continue their service to our country by reducing our dependence on oil, which puts all our service members — past and present, at home or abroad — at risk.
But that opportunity was put on hold by regulatory decisions that made rooftop solar less attractive to Nevada homeowners, thereby reducing the jobs that came with the solar industry.
If we want to talk about how to create jobs and how to help our men and women in uniform, let’s start by tackling one thing we can all agree on: We need more jobs that put veterans to work.
Gov. Brian Sandoval has begun to address this problem by reconvening the New Energy Industry Task Force, which a couple months ago released a set of recommendations it hopes will be passed by the Nevada Legislature during its 2017 session. Included in those recommendations are policy proposals that could help bring good jobs and a much-needed industry to the state.
It is imperative that the governor and members of the Legislature do everything they can to return the well-paying, skilled solar jobs — and create other respectable energy industry jobs, too — that veterans can excel in and that our nation needs. If we want to grow the new economy and create jobs, why not start locally? Let’s show our gratitude to former and active-duty military by committing to provide them a more prosperous, more secure future in sunny Nevada.
Steven Seroka is a retired colonel with a 30-year career in the United States Air Force, a former chief of staff for the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and supporter of Operation Free.