The expected boom in green energy is a complicated issue for UWUA members. While provisions in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) promise union-friendly project labor agreements, prevailing wages and apprenticeship programs, much of what’s been experienced so far has benefited the construction-side of the business and not the operations, which is what matters most to UWUA members. Much of the development to date in emerging wind and solar has been done outside of traditional utility industry employers and is non-union. And many members — and their communities — in legacy sectors such as coal and gas face uncertain futures.
This is an important year for the future of our union’s power generation and distribution workforces. A wave of project announcements related to the BIL and IRA is expected this year and will start translating into billions of dollars in federal funds. While the federal government is providing funding, the key conversations are happening in state houses. States are playing the leading role in determining the future of energy generation and the quality of future utility industry jobs. Many are working at remarkable speed to enact legislation that includes accelerated timetables.
In February, Minnesota became the eleventh state to enact legislation requiring 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040. It joined California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, in having laws that require a transition to 100 percent carbon-free or renewable electricity. Governors in New Jersey and Wisconsin are acting through executive orders.
There is no time to lose! In Rhode Island, 100 percent of the state’s electricity use needs to be offset by the production of electricity from renewable sources by 2033. Other states have less accelerated, but no less ambitious, timetables. In each, initial targets will roll into longer term programs that will shape our industries for the next 20-30 years.
The important thing to know is that if you’re not engaged yet, it’s not too late. These conversations are ongoing and there is a need for continuous engagement. While the laws establish lofty goals, the devil is in the details, and many details of how to meet the states’ requirements have yet to be worked out.
Utility workers are the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) on power generation and distribution, and we have important knowledge and experience to contribute to these discussions. This is particularly important when it comes to gas. States with ambitious climate goals must understand the critical need to keep gas utilities financially healthy so they can continue to maintain their infrastructure in safe running order.
When UWUA talks, people listen. UWUA is showing that we can make a difference in these debates.
In New York, UWUA is represented on the state’s Climate Action Council, a task force created to tackle the all-important details of how to implement the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires the state to transition to 100% clean electricity by 2040. In December, the council approved a 445-page blueprint laying out how the bill’s aims will be achieved, new jobs that will be created, and how the state will support those whose positions will become obsolete with training and transition assistance to new jobs.
In Massachusetts, the UWUA is active in the state AFL-CIO’s Massachusetts Climate Jobs organization. The state has a comprehensive clean energy and climate policy, including the Global Warming Solutions Act, which sets targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting clean energy. We have helped draft several pieces of legislation that are currently before the state house aimed at addressing the details of meeting the state’s climate goals in ways that will protect and advance middle class jobs.
In California, the UWUA provided input on the Climate, Health, and Jobs Act of 2020, which provides funding for worker training programs as the state transitions to emissions-free energy. We helped achieve a requirement in Connecticut that prevailing wages be paid to all construction and operation and maintenance workers for projects of two megawatts or above. In Illinois, UWUA supported the Future Energy Jobs Act, which provides funding for worker training in wind and solar power.
Discussions are at various stages of advancement, but they are happening, and it’s not too late to get involved and help ensure that policies adopted at the state level support an equitable and middle-class supporting transition. With a seat at the table, we have a say in the energy futures of our states and country — and most importantly, the types of jobs that will emerge from the process.