CLEVELAND, Tenn. - As Congress debates a stimulus package that could provide billions of dollars for alternative energy, officials at Cleveland State Community College hope their growing green-energy majors get a chunk of the aid come fall.
"This part of the world realizes the importance (of alternative energy) and wants to be a leader," Cleveland State President Carl Hite said.
The Energy Efficiency Residential Construction program at Cleveland State was launched three years ago with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Since then, it has grown significantly, said Allan Gentry, chairman of the technology department.
In 2006, 12 students enrolled in the program to learn about new construction methods, solar energy, wind energy, alternative fuels and geothermal technology, Mr. Gentry said. This year, 125 students are enrolled and officials expect that number to increase in years to come.
"It has grown unbelievably," said Mr. Gentry. "When (green energy) started to gain in popularity, we already had the programs in place. We were really ahead of the curve."
President Barack Obama's administration has made developing green technology and energy a priority and has encouraged Congress to fund college-based alternative energy programs in its stimulus bill, currently being debated in the Senate.
Gov. Phil Bredesen has said he wants Tennessee to be a leader in the field of alternative fuels.
With Gov. Bredesen's support, the University of Tennessee is building a biofuels refinery in Vonore, Tenn., that will convert switchgrass grown in the state to cellulosic ethanol for fuel.
Though the economy is tightening, Dr. Hite said he believes Tennessee will see the emergence of more green jobs. In fact, he said, there is talk about a major alternative energy company building a $1 billion plant in Bradley County.
"Energy will be big business in the U.S., and it is close to being a big business in the state of Tennessee," he said.
Mr. Gentry said Cleveland State officials don't know whether the school will benefit from the stimulus bill. They also don't know whether funding will go directly to the college or will help fund scholarships in alternative energy.
Cleveland State now offers more than 35 full-tuition scholarships for its alternative energy program each year. In October, the programs received a $65,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission that Mr. Gentry said will be used to reconfigure the curriculum and develop online courses and distance learning opportunities.
Professors also will develop workshops for area builders and contractors, he said.
Many students who go through the program work for builders or contractors and are bringing their new knowledge to their workplace, he said. Others have plans to start their own businesses or want to install solar panels.
"Our folks are going to be ready to go when we think things are really going to take off," he said.