Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

July 12, 2021 OTHER VOICES

Other Voices: New prevailing wage legislation a win for solar industry workers

Photo | Contributed

Connecticut’s workers just scored a big win.

Gov. Ned Lamont recently signed into law the nation’s strongest labor standards for renewable energy projects, paving the way for our state to swiftly and equitably transition to a green economy powered by good union jobs.

The bill, SB 999, will ensure that Connecticut’s efforts to combat climate change will create jobs that pay family-sustaining wages and increase training opportunities for Connecticut’s marginalized residents.

Without it, there’s simply no guarantee that the growing number of green jobs in our state will be good jobs, which is why the bill earned vigorous support from a coalition of labor unions, environmentalists, community organizations, interreligious groups and students.

But that didn’t stop the Connecticut solar industry association, SolarConnecticut, from drumming up fear with claims about how the policy would increase costs for ratepayers — an argument that has been fully disproven by a UC Berkeley Labor Center study, which confirmed that paying workers well does not negatively impact solar development.

When it comes down to it, the solar industry simply disregarded the facts and lobbied against SB 999 — and then pushed Lamont to veto the bill without fully considering what’s best for Connecticut’s workers, climate, and communities.

There’s no disputing that renewable energy is here to stay.

Connecticut is already developing dozens of utility-scale wind and solar projects throughout the state. But an equitable or just transition to renewables is not inevitable.

That’s why SB 999 is so important: the bill helps ensure that no Connecticut workers or communities will be left behind as our state takes science-based steps to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

This includes creating new opportunities for those who have been traditionally underrepresented in the construction industry, including people of color and women, and creating opportunities for those with other barriers to employment, such as residents in low-income zip codes or people who have been formerly incarcerated.

The new law only applies to utility-scale projects, excluding, for example, residential or commercial solar installations — and includes requirements that developers pay prevailing wages for construction, maintenance and security personnel; partner with apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs; and negotiate a community benefits agreement with the host community.

Of course, not all developers in Connecticut underpay their workforce. Some renewable energy projects have already been constructed with strong labor protections and standards for workers, including prevailing wages. SB 999 will level the playing field for those high-road developers so they compete on merit.

SB 999 is just common sense. It even follows an approach widely accepted by other states and the national solar industry itself.

New Jersey, which has required prevailing wage on solar development projects 1 megawatt and larger since 2013, is one of the best case studies we have for this type of policy’s success.

Because labor is a relatively small portion of the total cost of utility-scale solar projects, New Jersey’s has successfully protected workers’ wages with no evidence of significant costs to developers or ratepayers.

Now, New Jersey ranks seventh nationally for installed solar capacity. For comparison, Connecticut ranks 21st. Legislation similar to SB 999 recently passed in New York and Maine and has been proposed in Illinois and Rhode Island.

We applaud Gov. Lamont for standing up for Connecticut’s workers and communities to sign this crucial legislation into law.

Aziz Dehkan is the executive director of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs. Heather Burns is the founder and CEO of the Connecticut Sustainable Business Council.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF