President Barack Obama created a new Clean Energy Service Corps on Tuesday as part of a landmark national service bill he signed into law. That could be good news for young Americans wanting to get a foot in the door of the clean energy industry — but they’ll have to wait at least a year for the Corps to get up and rolling.
The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act will more than triple the size of the AmeriCorps domestic service program, from its current 75,000 volunteers to 250,000 by 2017. The Clean Energy Service Corps, which will be part of AmeriCorps, will train people and put them to work installing solar panels, weatherizing low-income homes, conducting home energy audits, and consulting small businesses on their energy use.
Like most other AmeriCorps positions, the Clean Energy Corps will offer modest living stipends of $11,000 to $22,000 a year, and education grants of up to $5,350 at the end of a year of service. President Obama, who got his political start as a community organizer in Chicago, can testify that such work brings other benefits. So can Michelle Obama, who founded an AmeriCorps program in Chicago and intends to focus on community service during her work as first lady.
“Through service, I found a community that embraced me, citizenship that was meaningful, the direction I had been seeking,” she said on Tuesday. “I discovered how my own improbable story fit into the larger story of America. It’s the same spirit I have seen across this country. I have seen a rising generation of young people work and volunteer and turn out in record numbers.”
Record numbers indeed: AmeriCorps applications over the past five months have spiked 234 percent over the same period a year ago, according to Sandy Scott, a spokesperson for the Corporation for National and Community Service, AmeriCorps’ parent organization. He said it now receives three applications for every available spot, suggesting there’s ample demand for the new positions.
“I think it’s a combination of the economy and an ‘Obama effect,'” Scott said. “His call to service is really striking a strong chord with millennials, with college graduates, who are already a service-oriented generation. It’s really an astonishing surge in the number of applications that bodes well for the future of our country.”
Where do I sign up?
The new law takes effect in October, and local organizations must then bid to host AmeriCorps volunteers, so new positions won’t be announced until May 2010 at the earliest, Scott said.
AmeriCorps already offers environmental positions doing work such as wildlife habitat restoration, trail building, and invasive species removal. As for less tree-huggie and more energy-focused work, Scott said, “There’s some number of those positions. There’s not a lot. That’s going to be rapidly increasing under the new legislation.”
AmeriCorps is also adding some 13,000 new positions through funding from the economic stimulus package passed in February. Those will open up more quickly—Scott said grant winners will be announced in the next two weeks, and the positions should be listed publicly soon thereafter.
Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who worked to get the Clean Energy Service Corps into the national service bill, said he was glad to see it modeled after the AmeriCorps program President Bill Clinton established in 1993.
“We have the ability to give young people a real growth experience while at the same time fulfilling a national goal,” said Inslee. “AmeriCorps has been successful. Now we’ve married it with the goal of creating energy efficiency in our homes and businesses … You can look forward to thousands of young Americans getting out to help homeowners.”
While he expects corps positions to include training in renewable energy systems such as solar and wind, Inslee said efficiency programs such as home and business energy audits and weatherization will likely make up the bulk of the work.
“We call efficiency the ‘first fuel’: it’s always the cheapest and the fastest,” he said. “If you look at the opportunities, the fastest ones to get these young folks deployed will be around energy efficiency.”