Western Electrical Contractors Association, Inc.

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Thursday, July 11, 2019


Richard Markuson

What are IBEW (and Scott Wetch) Up to Now? 

We have mentioned that IBEW and their subsidiary, NECA, are seeking to end the authority for C46 solar contractors to install energy storage systems and that they are also sponsoring SB 524 (Stern), which was heard Wednesday afternoon in the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee. This bill requires that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) directs an energy efficiency program administrator or program implementer to ensure that work is performed by a skilled and trained workforce for projects receiving $50,000 or more in ratepayer-funded incentives for energy efficiency projects within the same building, facility, or building complex. For example, an apartment complex of 300 units that received an incentive of $166 per unit to reduce energy consumption would be required to comply with Public Contract Code §2601, which, for work performed on or after January 1, 2020, requires that at least 60 percent of the journeypersons employed are graduates of an apprenticeship program for the applicable occupation.
According to the CPUC's 2018 annual report, they implemented a series of recent policy decisions to achieve their established goal of doubling energy efficiency (EE) savings. Those decisions included allowing the EE program administrators a combination of budget certainty, continuity, and flexibility in program administration. In 2018, the CPUC approved a $7.5 billion budget for EE through 2025. Additionally, new incentive mechanisms, such as pay for performance, will allow program designers to better ensure energy savings. The CPUC is also designing a new policy initiative, in which EE programs will be evaluated for effectiveness by utilizing a framework for tracking progress using common metrics.

Existing law requires the CPUC to work with stakeholders - including the California Energy Commission (CEC) - to identify all potentially achievable, cost-effective electricity and natural gas efficiency savings, and establish energy efficiency targets and ratepayer-funded programs for investor-owned utilities. Under existing law, IOUs can offer customers ratepayer-funded incentives to make energy efficiency improvements that produce energy savings. These improvements can include a number of changes to a building, including energy-saving lighting, refrigeration, and heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC). Rebates that help lower the cost of less expensive energy-saving appliances and equipment like smart thermostats may also be offered an incentive.

Workforce Issues. In 2013, the CPUC directed the IOUs to employ an expert consultant to help develop a comprehensive plan to address workforce issues in the IOU energy efficiency programs. The University of California, Berkeley's Donald Vial Center for Employment in the Green Economy was selected as the consultant and developed a guidance plan with recommendations for addressing workforce issues in the IOUs rolling portfolio investments. The plan made three broad recommendations:

1)          The IOUs should incorporate a set of contractor and workforce standards and other measures into the program requirements for their energy efficiency incentive programs.

2)          The IOUs should redesign their workforce programs to better align, leverage, and develop influence over California's main training and education institutions.

3)          The IOUs should create a program to increase opportunities for workers from disadvantaged communities to enter rewarding careers in energy efficiency.

Read that last recommendation again: The IOUs should create a program to increase opportunities for workers from disadvantaged communities to enter rewarding careers in energy efficiency. Does requiring a 60 percent graduation from an apprenticeship program help workers from disadvantaged communities to enter rewarding careers in energy efficiency or does it lock in building trades workers to perform the majority of the $7.5 billion EE work?
The bill was approved by the committee, but not without some limiting amendments and some self-serving comments by members of the committee, like Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance). Muratsuchi - who over the course of four elections has received over $800,000 from construction unions - said he'd vote for any bill that ensured more union construction jobs.
In the end, that $7-plus billion in energy efficiency work is too big a prize to leave on the table. Not only that, but a few $800,000 contributions here and there result in a pretty decent return on investment - especially when the money comes from dues and industry advancement contributions, whose ultimate source is the wallet of every California taxpayer!