Source: Union | Wendy Culverwell of the Tri-City Herald | August 17, 2016

Energy secretary discusses the sector’s growing appetite for skilled workers.

The U.S. Secretary of Energy was every bit the academic physicist when he met with educators Tuesday to talk work force issues in Richland.

Ernest Moniz, the Stanford-educated MIT professor who became the nation’s top energy official in 2013, came armed with labor data when he paid a high-profile visit to Washington this week.

The U.S. must augment the five-plus million energy workers today with at least 1.5 million more in the next 15 years to maintain its energy advantage, he said, citing his office’s own efforts to better understand just what constitutes an “energy job.”

Moniz spent Monday in Seattle, then traveled to the Tri-Cities on Tuesday to call on Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Moniz, joined by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., spent an hour with business, labor and education leaders to discuss the energy sector’s growing appetite for skilled workers.

For the Department of Energy, with its historic appetite for workers with advanced degrees, that means shifting gears and supporting education at all levels, from construction workers focused on energy retrofits to nuclear research.

“This is not your father’s Department of Energy. We are looking across the board,” he told educators representing Washington State University Tri-Cities, Walla Walla Community College and labor unions.

Tuesday evening, Moniz announced DOE is extending Battelle’s contract to manage PNNL by five years. The contract takes effect in a year and will emphasize partnerships with the state’s leading universities.

Moniz said the U.S. is poised to expand as nations worldwide commit to improving their environmental emissions under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. It’s a multi-trillion-dollar opportunity that the U.S., with its low natural gas prices and history of innovation, is well positioned to seize.

“We want to use the energy edge to capture much of that,” he said.

Cantwell said the energy sector is an opportunity to replace lost manufacturing jobs and to create an industry that starts and ends in the U.S.

“We can keep the supply chain in America,” she said.

Moniz used his visit to gently chide PNNL Director Steve Ashby about the lab’s statewide profile.

“There is far too little recognition of the merits of PNNL west of the Cascades,” he said.