The Tobacco Valley Solar Farm in Simsbury is currently the largest in Connecticut. File photo

SolarConnecticut, a local solar association, has been quietly lobbying against Connecticut Senate Bill 999, legislation that protects Connecticut’s renewable energy workforce from developers who pay poverty wages while raking in profits for their investors.

Interestingly, SolarConnecticut’s opposition to SB 999 runs counter to the position of the national solar industry, which advocates for the same prevailing wage and workforce training provisions in SB 999. According to an April 2021 report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, one of the largest national solar industry associations, “Unions and organized labor, flexibility in job classification, prevailing wage policy, increased community college training programs, additional public funding for training and workforce development all have a role to play in expanding access to careers in the the solar workforce.”

Among the most ludicrous claims that SolarConnecticut Executive Director Mike Trahan has made is the idea that the bill would create more than $100 million in costs for ratepayers. Let’s be clear: SB 999 would not cost ratepayers or taxpayers a dime. A bipartisan analysis has revealed there are no taxpayer costs, therefore no fiscal note, associated with the bill. SB 999 has the full support of the Energy and Technology Committee Chairs (who would not have backed it if it raised costs for ratepayers). Moreover, the bill would not have garnered so much support from environmental organizations if it had the potential to harm the solar industry.

It is important to note that significant subsidies flow from ratepayers to solar developers in the form of renewable energy credits —money that rarely finds its way into the pockets of the people who actually perform the work.

SB 999 establishes a level playing field where developers compete fairly on skill, rather than on exploiting our workforce. It also ensures that our workforce and communities are not exploited by businesses who only care about their own bottom line.

SB 999 focuses on large-scale projects; it steers clear of rooftop projects and the kinds of systems owned by residents or small businesses. For example, SB 999 avoids any project smaller than 2 megawatts. The footprint of a two-megawatt solar project is about 8 acres (roughly eight football fields). A typical rooftop project is only five kilowatts (0.0005 megawatts, 400 times smaller than the minimum threshold of SB 999).

Large-scale projects are complex and require a wide range of skills beyond solar panel installation: skilled labor is needed to clear the land, install foundations, and perform electrical work. Recent research, such as an economic study from the UC Berkeley Labor Center, confirms what we already know: paying workers family-sustaining wages is not a burden to the large-scale solar industry. We should not assume that workers’ wages are the only place to cut costs, particularly when labor is such a small portion of the total cost of such projects.

SolarConnecticut’s assertions are also contradicted by our neighboring states. New Jersey ranks seventh best in the nation for solar development. New Jersey has required prevailing wage on solar projects since 2013 and has seen much stronger solar growth than Connecticut. Last month, New York passed legislation similar to SB 999 in a budget bill. And, last year, Connecticut enacted similar legislation for all of its offshore wind projects (with near unanimous support from both sides of the aisle). Connecticut’s solar industry has matured tremendously over the past ten years and is adept at managing changes in costs and regulation.

SB 999 successfully passed the Senate last week. The bill ensures good-paying careers as Connecticut moves to a renewable energy economy. Hopefully our legislators will do the right thing when the bill comes to a vote in the House and will not give in to dubious claims that are a cover for continued profiteering at the expense of our hard-working residents.

Aziz Dehkan is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs. John Harrity is Board President of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs.

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