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Women Look to Close Gender Gap in Oregon Wind Energy

Wind power supplied more than 12 percent of Oregon's in-state electricity production in 2014, according to the American Wind Energy Association. (Tedder/Wikimedia Commons)
March 15. 2016
Wind power supplied more than 12 percent of Oregon's in-state electricity production in 2014, according to the American Wind Energy Association. (Tedder/Wikimedia Commons)

PORTLAND, Ore. - A new Oregon law ensures that renewable energy, including wind power, will be a force in the state's future utility plans.

By 2040, half the electricity supplied to customers is required to come from renewable-energy sources. The state's commitment should mean more jobs in the wind industry, and Kristen Graf, executive director of the group Women of Wind Energy, said that more women are interested in the field, even though men largely make up the workforce now.

"Young women in K-through-12 programs (are) interested in science and technology, and often interested in it as a way to address larger world problems," she said. "So, why not connect them to renewable energy and jobs that are creating clean technologies?"

According to a survey by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2013, about one in five wind-energy employees was a woman.

Rachel Shimshak, executive director of Renewable Northwest, a Portland-based advocacy group for clean energy, said she has noticed a change in the demographic since she began working with the wind-energy industry nearly four decades ago.

"Wind energy has made a special effort to identify opportunities for women," she said. "and the Women of Wind Energy association is really trying to mentor people and include them in the industry."

Some of the jobs, such as wind-turbine technician, require extensive training and certifications. However, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, turbine technician is the fastest-growing occupation in the country.

Graf's advice for women interested in the field is to find a role model already working in wind, "and then, I would say, connect to other women around the industry. Especially in the Northwest," she said, "we have some really strong Women of Wind Energy chapters."

According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind energy makes up more than 12 percent of Oregon's in-state energy production.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR