California is in a perilous position as it relates to the supply and demand of electricity. A decade of inaction on the generation front has left all of us at the mercy of brownouts and so-called ‘flex alerts’ each and every summer. Ironically, lawmakers in Sacramento have pursued countless pieces of legislation that would worsen the problem, rushing to wean us off fossil fuels and electrify sectors like private transportation to appease environmental interests. Their goals of doing so will remain unrealistic unless we start getting serious about increasing our electrical generation and storage capability. We cannot increase the demand for electricity without greatly increasing the supply.
During a recent call with a delegation of lawmakers, I expressed our frustration with seeing countless projects denied at the local level that could have helped expand our generation capability in the state. Traditional onshore wind generation, pumped storage, and even commercial scale solar projects have been met with opposition in progressive and conservative communities alike, often at the behest of the same environmentalists pushing for electrification. Just a few months ago, a 216 MW wind project in Shasta County, a conservative and supposedly ‘business friendly’ part of the state, was rejected at the local level based on environmental concerns. In 2019, a similar project in Humboldt County, a much more progressive area, met the same fate.
With local approvals becoming more difficult for renewable projects statewide, lawmakers in Sacramento may have to intervene. Expanding our ability to meet energy demands is a matter of statewide concern and should be treated as such. Putting the future of California’s energy production in the hands of local boards isn’t working, and ratepayers and workers are paying the price. If California lawmakers are serious about their desire to build more renewable projects in every corner of the state, they must demonstrate as much by helping these projects get sited.
As we look to build out more of these projects, California lawmakers must make sure we don’t make the same mistakes we made with rooftop solar. Large subsidies applied to that industry had little impact on creating middle-class jobs, largely because non-signatory contractors dominated the market. Even today, the underground economy wreaks havoc on residential solar, driving project costs so low that our contractor partners on the unionized side struggle to compete; tying future subsides in that market to strict labor standards can help solve the problem.
When it comes to large scale energy production, California must invest in a diverse portfolio of generation assets to truly meet the future energy needs of the state. That means wind generation, biomass, pumped storage, hydro, and more. We cannot put all our eggs in one basket, so to speak. Commercial scale solar is still a great investment for California ratepayers, too, but we need to pair that investment with a similar one in electrical storage capabilities if we want to really maximize what we can do with solar. Creating this diverse production inventory will made the grid more resilient, lessening the likelihood of supply issues.
Any future subsidies in the energy market, or streamlining efforts for that matter, should be tied to strong labor standards that reward the use of a skilled and trained workforce like the one we represent. Doing so will ensure these investments in political and financial capital pay dividends for ratepayers and workers alike. The Building Trades have a proven history of creating barrier-free pathways to the middle class, and our ability to do so is limited only by the number of projects we are engaged to build. More projects mean more middle-class jobs; it’s that simple.
California lawmakers can create more pathways to a high-road career for job seekers if they’ll stand alongside us to get more of these projects built. Inaction is not an option. We need strong leadership from our elected officials on this issue. Hopefully they’re up to the challenge.