Providing jobs with justice as we transition the economy and our energy system

Clean Technica, May 2017

US solar and wind power jobs grew approximately 12 times faster than the US economy as a whole in recent years.

In 2015, it was reported that wind turbine technician had become the #1 fastest-growing job in the United States. Worth noting is that this is an ideal blue-collar job for moderately educated people, and mostly in “Republican states.” The median salary was $48,800 with only “some college” considered to be the typical education needs. You’d be hard-pressed to dream up a better job for people in red states looking for work.

Meanwhile, the US has tens of thousands of Americans employed in factories related to the production of electric cars, electric buses, solar panels, and wind turbines. First Solar, SunPower, GE, Tesla, Proterra, BYD, Nissan, GM, and many others employ large numbers of Americans — Democrats and Republicans — in important manufacturing jobs.

No doubt, France, China, and others would like to steal those manufacturing jobs, steal climate science jobs, and steal other high-quality 21st century jobs from the United States. The new president of France just made a direct appeal to people looking to work in these sectors. Brilliant. Intelligent. Visionary.

Meanwhile, my understanding is that Donald J. Trump suits and ties and Ivanka Trump’s clothing line are still manufactured in Asia. Hmm. …

The next few years are still critical, formative years in the growth of the biggest industries of the century. To focus on trying to preserve outdated industries and miss the opportunity to lead on the ones that will dominate is just about the worst economic policy you can conjecture. Just throw in massive tax cuts for the rich for a bonus crash.

And what do you get for it all anyway? What do you get for obsessively trying to protect the pollution industries? Your citizens die younger, get cancer more, suffer more, deal with greater extreme disasters (superstorms, record droughts, record flooding…), suffer from asthma more, are exposed to more national security risks, etc., etc. Oh yeah, and pollution pushers put more cash money into your political campaigns.

Who’s really acting in the interest of American citizens and American jobs?

 

A number of EJ and labor leaders developed these recommendations.  I’m not sure if we had these together at the time we met with Adrian:

 

Require labor standards on construction projects that government funds, incentivizes, or mandates to save energy or meet GHG reduction targets.  Require a community workforce agreement (CWA), or similar arrangements that include labor standards and targeted/local hire provisions, on fully subsidized public and ratepayer investments in low-carbon sectors.  Labor standards—including prevailing wage, benefit, and apprenticeship standards—are crucial mechanisms for ensuring that low-carbon economic development results in high-quality, family-supporting careers. Labor standards are often linked with targeted hire provisions to broaden access to career-track jobs for disadvantaged workers.  A number of vehicles exist for attaching labor standards to state GHG reduction measures that involve construction work.

  • For Energy Efficiency and Distributed Generation Incentive Programs:  Implement labor standards for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other low-carbon construction projects subsidized by public investment and utility ratepayer incentive programs.
  • Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS):  Require a CWA on RPS-eligible, utility-scale renewables in power purchase contracts. Alternatively, give preference in the PPA selection process to projects with a multi-craft CWA.
  • Low-Income Weatherization Programs:  Require a wage floor and build career ladders for low-income energy efficiency retrofit programs funded by utilities and the GGRF.

Invest in GHG-reducing public works projects that reach low-income people in your area.  Prioritizing low-carbon investments in the public sector (i.e., public buildings and public infrastructure projects) offers a variety of equity benefits by providing a vehicle for community workforce agreements and ensuring direct investment in disadvantaged communities, while meeting GHG reduction goals.

  • MUSH Sector Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Investments:  Create a comprehensive deep retrofit program for MUSH (municipal, university, school, and hospital) and multifamily affordable housing markets that incorporates a community workforce agreement and is funded by existing ratepayer or public funds.
  • Green Zones:  Support comprehensive GHG reduction and community resilience investments in the most disadvantaged communities, devised through a multi-stakeholder, community engagement process that includes both environmental justice and labor organizations.

Ensure equitable distribution of ratepayer and public incentive funds for private low-carbon investments.  Equity can be advanced by ensuring that programs to encourage adoption of solar, electric vehicle, and other low-carbon technologies do not require participants to be homeowners, have disposable savings, or have access to credit in order to benefit from government incentives. To the extent possible, decisionmakers should design programs to incentivize low-carbon investments that are delinked from ownership of individual assets like homes or vehicles.  For example, for Community Solar Programs:

  • Expand community solar programs that provide distributed solar to multiple households
  • (including pass-through benefits to renters), prioritize participation from disadvantaged households and siting in disadvantage areas, and require the incorporation of CWAs.

Ensure just transitions for workers and communities affected by the decline of GHG-emitting industries.  Overall, jobs are not likely to be lost but planning is still needed, including Industrial Planning for High GHG-Emitting Industries:

  • Identify a lead state agency and a funding source and initiate an inclusive planning process to mitigate transition losses for workers and communities potentially impacted by industrial decline due to climate policy.
  • Ensure that any cap and trade programs do not exacerbate pollution hotspots in disadvantaged communities and amend the program where necessary.  Ongoing concerns about the possible adverse impact of the cap-and-trade system on existing environmental justice hotspots requires developing robust evaluation and collecting the data to monitor exposure, with a trigger to respond if cap and trade exacerbates pollution hotspots, particularly in disadvantaged communities. Addressing these issues requires incorporation of co-pollutant emissions, public reporting of cap-and-trade transactions by facility, and restrictions on facility-level trading and offset purchases at facilities in prioritized disadvantaged communities when necessary.

Ensure participation from labor and EJ representatives in all climate policy arenas.

State and local government should collect consistent, reliable, and publicly available data to monitor performance on key equity indicators. Although measuring progress may seem like a small step, we highlight the importance of performance reporting, following the adage “what gets measured gets managed.”

 

Statewide Public Accountability System to Track Equity Outcomes.

The state should develop an annual Climate Equity Report based on tracking equity outcomes to enable state officials to monitor whether equity goals have been reached, to identify areas where climate policy should be improved to advance equity, and to hold public bodies accountable for progress on equity in GHG reduction measures.

 

This set of recommendations was recently assembled by John and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, with many good links:

 

  • Adopt a resolution to get to 100% renewable energy on a fast timescale. It’s a race!  Ordinances have been developed by Pueblo, CO; Traverse City, MI; East Hampton, NY.
  • Commit to developing local renewable energy to serve local energy needs; e.g.,  Taos, NM ordinance
  • Minimize zoning and permitting costs for renewable energy systems; e.g.,  Lancaster, CA.  Also check examples from community power map.
  • Replace all public lighting with LEDs; e.g., Oahu, New York, NY ordinance
  • Put solar on every possible public building & maximize energy efficiency of existing and future public buildings; e.g., ordinances in San Francisco, CA; New York, NY.  All public buildings should be required to install net zero carbon emissions systems (solar, geothermal).  Public housing over to heat pumps and more efficient ice-based air conditioning systems.
  • Consider the full range of energy storage options.  While batteries are coming down in price, there are many kinds of energy storage options beyond batteries. Stanford at night freezes ice in rooftop tubing, with the melted cold water from it used for air conditioning during the day. A pilot system in Okotoks, Alberta, uses solar plus heated rocks underground for winter heating.
  • Commit to electrification of city fleet vehicles; e.g., Austin, TX ordinance
  • Have the city host community solar projects for residents and businesses; e.g., Taylors Falls, MN; Minneapolis, MN
  • Adopt the most efficient building energy code allowed by state law; e.g.,  Boston, MA; Tucson, AZ; Babylon, NY; Boulder County, CO.  In NYC the big issue is buildings, which constitutes 75% of the carbon footprint.  And after 7 years of voluntary retrofits, the big fight is now to make it mandatory, starting with those that are cost effective.  LA may be able to draw best practices from these efforts.

We have only begun to tap our solar energy potential. We have the technical potential to generate tens to hundreds of times more solar energy than we currently do, according to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) analysis of technical rooftop solar potential on small buildings. Also,  a 1-megawatt solar array provides about $2.5 million in economic benefits for construction and operation, but an additional $5 million in local revenue if it’s locally owned.

 

More on jobs:

 

Renewable energy is one of our best hopes for jobs.  A 2008 report by the Center on Wisconsin Strategies suggests that 8 -11 jobs can be created for every $1 million invested in building energy efficiency retrofitting. The American Solar Energy Society has estimated that jobs in energy efficiency industries are well on their way to quadrupling between 2007 and 2030, from 3.75 million to 16.7 million.

 

A public jobs program should be launched to secure the right to decent paid work through public jobs for the unemployed and those presently working in low paid service-sector jobs such as in fast food and retail and in sectors unlikely to exist in the future, related to fossil fuel mining and transport.  Economist Philip Harvey estimated the net federal cost for 1 million living-wage public jobs in 2011 at $28.6 billion. The economic multiplier of this fiscal stimulus would generate another 414,000 jobs in Harvey’s analysis. Dividing 19.6 million needed jobs by 1.4 million created jobs equals 14, which multiplied by $28.6 billion equals $400.4 billion for a 19.6 million jobs program. Other economists also estimate the cost of a program for the federal government as employer of last resort (ELR) would be relatively small, around 1-2% of GDP because it corresponds with huge savings in unemployment insurance in a way that pays people to work rather than to not work. A federally funded ELR program will also help local and state budgets as incomes from employment add to the tax revenue of states and local governments.  A job guarantee would also be good for the private sector, as it guarantees that domestic demand never collapses as much as it has in recent years, with chronically low wages and structural unemployment and underemployment. It would also lift incomes for the most vulnerable households, helping to significantly reduce income inequality.  Bernie Sanders’ recent presidential campaign called for the creation of 13 million living wage jobs, primarily through $200 billion a year in investments in infrastructure: water system, transportation, seaports, electric grid, low head dams, and broadband.  A Green New Deal could invest in infrastructure that reduces the carbon footprint (e.g., energy retrofits, renewable energy), as well as education, child and adult care, home health services and other essential human services.

 

Economists predict that we can build a 100 percent renewable energy system at costs comparable to or less than what we would have to spend to continue our reliance on dirty energy. The International Energy Agency estimates that limiting warming to 2° C would require an additional investment of about 1 percent of global GDP per year. (We Have the Power, Environment America and the Frontier Group, http://bit.ly/1qlnotd), which would be $170 billion a year for the US. The former chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made similar estimates.

 

Other recommendations to support a just energy and transport transition include the following policies:

 

  • Automatic Unemployment Insurance (UI) and related re-employment assistance benefits should kick in automatically for eligible workers. The duration of coverage for these benefits should also be automatically extended during periods of high unemployment. UI and related job training and placement benefits should be fully funded and modernized to meet the anticipated demand.
  • Progressive Basic Income – Since the efficiency of today’s technological advancements may outpace our ability to replace automated jobs with new jobs for the displaced, it would be prudent to establish a progressive basic income (PBI) to offset the likely potential for seismic changes in the labor market. The Social Security program—which has features that facilitate the collection and distribution of revenue on a broad scale—is the most effective and efficient delivery mechanism by which this could be accomplished. A Progressive Basic Income would not replace Social Security’s retiree, disability, and survivor programs, but would be part of an expanded Social Security system.
  • Education and Retraining – Since the vast majority of workers in driving occupations have lower educational attainment levels, education and retraining could help displaced workers secure comparable or better jobs. Although higher education does not necessarily translate into jobs or economic mobility, policies that promote affordable postsecondary education and training options— with built-in subsidies for displaced workers—as well as fully funding existing programs such as American Job Centers, are important options.
  • Automatic Medicaid Eligibility – Federal and state governments should expand Medicaid eligibility to automatically cover displaced workers with household incomes below a determined level. This type of assistance will enable workers to protect their health and their wallets while they seek opportunities to retrain, get additional education, and/or find a new job.
  • Expanding Support for Entrepreneurs – Programs and incentives that can help displaced workers start and sustain businesses could lead to job creation and have a generative effect on the U.S. economy.