A state mandate to increase labor costs is no way to lower the cost of clean energy
Employers in Connecticut who started the state’s commercial solar industry 10-years ago and created 1,000 jobs say their industry will collapse if proponents of Connecticut Senate Bill (SB) 999 – mostly unfamiliar with commercial solar development – get their way. Also gone will be the downward trend in clean energy costs Connecticut electric ratepayers and taxpayers currently enjoy.
The bill forces private Connecticut businesses that install solar and other renewable energy systems as little as two megawatts (2MW), to pay union scale “prevailing wages” to installers and comply with costly bureaucratic requirements and unnecessary job training programs commonly associated with large municipal and or state projects.
The state Senate passed SB 999 last week on a party line vote (Democrats yes, Republicans no) and sent the bill to the state House. Before entertaining SB 999, House members should know the facts. Here they are:
Solar industry jobs represent more than 75-percent of Connecticut’s clean energy workforce. SB 999 would impact the solar industry the most.
Commercial sector solar workers are respected professionals although the work generally is not considered technical. The same skills that tradesmen have used for years on standard commercial office building and school construction projects are the same skills deploy on commercial solar job sites. There is no special job training for solar work necessary as called for in SB 999.
Whether it’s large utility scale projects 100MW and larger like the 120MW project in East Windsor, or medium size projects from 25MW – 100MW, or small projects inside of 25MW, it’s all the same. General construction is general construction whether they’re assembling a solar system in a field or on a large flat roof, or constructing a commercial office building.
Don’t be confused. We value solar job site workers. They are well trained. But we’re talking about installing solar panels. Not making them. There’s a difference.
After 10-years of solar development in Connecticut, solar installations have become rather routine. Those who have no experience with commercial solar have hyped the need for skilled workers on solar job sites as justification to pass SB 999. They’re wrong.
Connecticut tried solar job training several years ago at community colleges. Even built a solar job training laboratory all for solar jobs that didn’t exist. It was a colossal waste of money. So why should solar developers who’ve worked hard to drive the installed price of solar down so more people can afford it, now be forced to train new workers for jobs that don’t exist and then pass that cost to consumers? This is SB 999.
House members, this year’s installed commercial solar totals won’t be any higher than last years. Or next year’s total. Or the year after that. The reason is that the growth of commercial programs have been stunted by legislation passed by the General Assembly. Solar programs are capped so low that they don’t get bigger than they are now. The Legislature’s three major commercial solar programs are either idle (sold out almost two years ago), or capped at levels at insidiously low the programs sell out each year.
All SB 999 might do is take a job away from an existing solar worker and pay the new, less experienced one more money to do the same thing.
Not happy about the job shortage in the local solar industry? Neither are we. Among U.S. states, Connecticut ranks No. 18 in solar jobs per capita according to clean energy media outlet Cleantechnia.com. No. 18 might sound OK, except only 20 or so states are really serious about solar.
Look north for a lesson in job creation. Massachusetts has just twice the population of Connecticut but well over four times the number of solar jobs. And lower electric rates too.
Putting more organized labor workers to work could have happened this session. But labor didn’t bother reaching out to the solar industry before SB 999 was raised for a debate in the Labor Committee and later approved on a strict party line vote (all Democrats voting yes, Republicans voting no). Those in the Senate who drafted the amendment that became SB 999 didn’t contact the state’s solar industry business leaders either before adopting the bill there, again on a party line vote.
Totaled up, adding frivolous new wage costs, new community benefits costs, new job training costs together with a recent spike in raw materials that’s sent solar panel prices up nearly 20-percent and solar will lose its hard-earned price advantage over fossil fuels overnight if SB 999 passes in the state House and signed by Gov. Lamont.
With two weeks left in the state Legislative session, we ask lawmakers to take three easy steps to create solar jobs for all workers for both union and non-union shops. None of these steps will impact the state budget.<
1. Pass HB 6523 as amended by LCO 8266 (increases generation capacity cap on one solar program from 20MW to 50MW allowing more municipalities to lower their electric bills through “virtual net metering.”
2. Remove the cap on the 2022 new commercial solar tariff program and the existing community solar program. Both are tiny compared to other states.
3.Close the gap between the end of the current residential program (RSIP) and the start of the new 2022 version.
These simple steps will double or even triple the amount of commercial and residential solar jobs in Connecticut. SB 999 is bad legislation. The point of clean energy policy is to bring costs down. Not up.
Mike Trahan is Executive Director of Solar Connecticut, the state’s solar industry business group and former Director of Communications for the Connecticut state Senate Majority Office.
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