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Measure touts potential of state's green industry

Measure touts potential of state’s green industryRep. Walt Leger is seeking

incentives for companies in the renewable energy sector(by Emilie Bahr via New Orleans City Business)Officials from New Orleans want incentives similar to those that lured

Sylvester Stallone to Louisiana to make his next action feature film

offered to the state’s renewable energy industry, which they say could be

the next economic blockbuster.But whether the Legislature, which convenes today in Baton Rouge, has the

stomach to offer more tax breaks while making drastic budget cuts remains

to be seen.Backers of House Bill 733, also known as the Louisiana Green Jobs

Initiative, say it would attract jobs and build an industry on a “green”

foundation — energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric,

and products and services that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy

use.The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, and

crafted with the help of New Orleans City Councilwoman Shelley Midura’s

office, calls for incentives similar to those available to the movie and

theater industry. It proposes tax breaks for infrastructure development and

payroll, including a bonus credit for companies that hire graduates of

Louisiana vocational training programs.Proponents say the incentives could go a long way toward positioning a

state that has long been an oil and gas hub as an epicenter of an

environmentally sustainable growth industry. Louisiana, advocates contend,

is well suited to capture and develop opportunities in renewable energy, in

some respects even more so than other locales that might on the surface

appear to be more obvious choices.Seung Hong, Midura’s chief of staff, points to the energy potential to be

found in the state’s agricultural, solar, wind and water assets, along with

the recent proliferation of “demand-side incentives” on the state and local

level.Included among these are the state tax credit that refunds 50 percent of

the first $25,000 of the cost of installing residential solaror wind

powersystems and a new energy-efficiency financing program the City Council

ratified this year.“The goal of this legislation,” Hong said of the Green JobsInitiative, “is

to make sure that all of that demand we’re creating is focused” on helping

grow a new economy. “And we’re ahead of the rest of the country on this.

It’s not like California is 15 years ahead of us on this. They’re not.

We’re in a position where we could actually become a national leader in

this new economy.”Also, despite the budgetary shortfall the state is facing, Hong said the

situation “is nowhere near that faced by places like California.”In Louisiana and New Orleans, officials historically have pursued

low-paying and low-mobility jobs, Hong said, and too often have been late

to the game in pursuing new industries, such as recent efforts to attract a

biotech sector — an industry already well-advanced in other parts of the

country and requiring a highly skilled labor pool.“Green jobs,” by contrast, “are white collar and blue collar jobs,” Hong

said, based in areas ranging from research science to solar panel

installation, and they tend to pay well.The starting salary for solar panel installersin the New Orleans area, for

example, is between $37,000 and $40,000, said Scott Oman, chief technology

officer for solar energy company South Coast Solar.Advocates believe the green jobs legislation carries appeal for Republicans

and Democrats alike. Still, significant challenges remain, perhaps foremost

is finding a money source at a time when the state faces serious budgetary

constraints.“Being able to clearly articulate a concrete return on investment may be

challenging,” Leger conceded.Given the state’s financial picture and the bevy of tax breaks proposed for

ratification and extension this year, Jim Brandt, president of the

nonprofit research organization Public Affairs Research Council of

Louisiana, suggested p