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Unions Still Selectively Finding Environmental Calamity in California Solar Projects

Out of nowhere comes a new, well-funded champion of Mother Earth. A group called “Monterey County Residents for Responsible Development” has submitted two sets of letters and exhibits to Monterey County alleging serious deficiencies in its environmental review for the county’s first large solar photovoltaic power plant, the 280 megawatt California Flats.

Obviously the Monterey County Planning Commission agreed with county staff that the group’s fastidious objections under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) weren’t credible. Commissioners voted 8-0 on January 14, 2015 to approve the project despite a last-minute “document dump” from lawyers representing the mysterious worried residents.

There has been one brief reference to this group in one local newspaper article. Monterey County community, business, and political leaders are generally unaware of the group, who comprises it, and why it is so concerned about nature.

What can the developer – First Solar, based in Tempe, Arizona – possibly do to mollify such a group and move the project forward, free of legal obstructions? The general public may not know, but regular readers of www.UnionWatch.org have probably already figured out who is behind the front group calling itself “Monterey County Residents for Responsible Development.”

The formulaic and obviously phony name of this unincorporated organization is a giveaway. For those who need additional clues, the name of the law firm representing these concerned residents is Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, based in South San Francisco.

CURE Reference in 2015-01-13 California Flats CURE Comment on FEIR

Yes, construction unions are at it again. In this case, California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) – a project of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California – is joining a few unknown individuals to object to the California Flats solar photovoltaic power plant.

Surely the power plant developer knows what it needs to do to shake off this obstacle. In electronic folders and e-mail in-boxes, a Project Labor Agreement template waits to be printed out by a First Solar representative for a signature of surrender, followed by a signature of triumph from a union representative.

But will the additional cost of construction imposed by the union Project Labor Agreement (and the complementary 30-year union Maintenance Labor Agreement) make the project financially infeasible for First Solar? Is there extra government money somewhere available to subside union monopolies for “green energy” projects?

California may struggle to reach its ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals under Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. In a few years, when California state agencies and local governments are compelled to intrude on residents’ personal behavior in order to reach those goals and save the planet, Californians can ironically blame the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the refusal of the legislature and governor to restrain union abuse of this law for financial gain.

Primary Source Documents

September 22, 2014 – California Flats Solar – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report – Letter

September 22, 2014 – California Flats Solar – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report – All Exhibits

December 23, 2014 – California Flats Solar – Monterey County Response to California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) in Final Environmental Impact Report

December 24, 2014 – California Flats Solar – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) – Request for Records from Monterey County

January 13, 2015 – California Flats Solar – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Comments on Final Environmental Impact Report – Letter

January 13, 2015 – California Flats Solar – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Comments on Final Environmental Impact Report – All Exhibits

January 14, 2014 – California Flats Solar – Staff Report to Monterey County Planning Commission

Monterey County Resource Management Agency – Planning Department – Major Projects – California Flats Solar

California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) – State Building and Construction Trades Council of California – Website

Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo – Website

First Solar – Website

News Coverage of Project, Including Article with One-Paragraph Reference to “Monterey County Residents for Responsible Development”

Major Solar Farm Proposed for Southeast County Ag LandMonterey County Weekly – March 7, 2013

Solar Farms on HorizonSalinas Californian – July 2, 2013

Voices of Opposition Surface as Solar Farm Proposal for South County Moves ForwardMonterey County Weekly – July 3, 2014

Draft Report Lays Out Details of Proposed California Flats Solar FarmMonterey County Weekly – August 14, 2014

Bid for Monterey County’s First Utility-Grade Solar Farm Releases Draft EIRMonterey County Herald – August 15, 2014

Monterey County Solar Farm Proposal Attracts Praise, CriticismMonterey County Herald – December 28, 2014

A separate letter from a law firm representing an organization called Monterey County Residents for Responsible Development also raised concerns about the potential for avian species such as the golden eagle and the Swainson’s hawk to mistake the reflective surfaces of the solar arrays for water, trees and other habitat, and injure themselves flying into them.

South County Solar Farm Gets Planning Commission Thumbs-Up – Monterey County Herald – January 14, 2015

Planning Commission Unanimously Recommends Approval on South County Solar FarmMonterey County Weekly – January 15, 2015

Background on Union “Greenmail” Against Solar Power Plants and Other Projects Using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

Did Unions Hasten Demise of California’s Solar Thermal Power Plants? – www.UnionWatch.org – July 16, 2013

Unions Extensively Interfere with California Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant Permitting – www.UnionWatch.org – July 20, 2013

Revised List of Union Actions in 2013 Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – www.UnionWatch.org – September 3, 2013


Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

Unions Extensively Interfere with California Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant Permitting

Earlier this week, www.UnionWatch.org posted the article Did Unions Hasten Demise of California’s Solar Thermal Power Plants? For the first time, the public can examine a comprehensive compilation of specific evidence showing how construction trade unions have exploited the state’s environmental protection laws to impede licensing of proposed solar thermal power plants at the California Energy Commission.

But what about proposed solar photovoltaic power plants, which are much more common but do not have a centralized process for environmental review and approval?

Now the public can go to this article here on www.UnionWatch.org (see list below) to examine the first-ever compilation of specific evidence showing how construction trade unions have exploited the state’s environmental protection laws (such as the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA) to impede permitting of solar photovoltaic power projects.

It’s difficult to track the development of solar photovoltaic power plants in California. Energy companies propose ambitious projects and then delay them or outright abandon them. Projects change ownership. Funding and government loans come and go. Names, locations, and sizes of proposed projects change. In addition, some local governments do not provide easy access to documents related to environmental review and permits.

Nevertheless, the list below is sufficient to prove that union “greenmail” or environmental permit extortion in California is as rampant against the solar photovoltaic power plant industry as it as against the solar thermal power plant industry.

The list includes recent proposed solar photovoltaic power plants that are classified under two conditions:

  1. Projects for which unions did the following: (1) filed lawsuits, (2) appealed the issuance of permits to a higher local authority, (3) objected to draft and final environmental impact reports and environmental impact statements, (4) objected to initial studies/mitigated negative declarations allowing the government to issue a permit, or (5) simply requested public documents – an action that sends a nasty warning to the applicant.
  2. Projects that unions openly supported or projects for which unions refrained from commenting, with reasonable evidence to show that the solar energy company committed to a Project Labor Agreement or some other deal that gave a union or unions exclusive control of some or all of the construction trade work. Only one actual Project Labor Agreement is linked below: companies and unions tend to regard their Project Labor Agreements as a trade secret (see an example of this confidentiality with the California Valley Solar Ranch project).

There are a handful of solar photovoltaic projects seriously under consideration or already approved by California local governments for which unions did not get involved in the permitting process and for which evidence is unavailable to confirm a union agreement or a unionized workforce. Projects under these conditions will be omitted from the list until union control is confirmed; nevertheless, it’s unlikely the unions are allowing their non-union competition to get any scraps. In fact, it’s reasonable to guess that right now the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union has a near-monopoly or complete monopoly on the electrical portion of solar photovoltaic power plant construction in California. Other unions such as the Operating Engineers and the Sheet Metal Workers may have guarantees for work on some projects. Meanwhile, the Laborers union (LIUNA) is also seeking control of lower-skill manual labor.

What does this mean for the solar power industry and for ratepayers? Several large non-union electrical contractors are highly competitive on price and quality and have a strong presence in the industrial and commercial construction market in many regions of California, especially outside of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Without question, aggressive interference in the permitting process for solar photovoltaic power plants has allowed certain unions to obtain almost complete control of solar power plant work that they never would have obtained under open competition.

Will the solar energy industry struggle to make money on California projects when forced to use exclusively union labor for some or all construction trades? Will some of these companies have trouble paying back government loans? Will the union interference in solar power plant permitting hinder the State of California in reaching its ambitious goals under the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32 or AB 32)? And will this translate into higher electricity rates for Californians?

The answer to all four questions is probably yes. And the California State Legislature and Governor Jerry Brown will do nothing to stop it.

Involvement of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) or the Laborers Union (LIUNA) in the Local Government Permitting Process for Solar Photovoltaic Power Plants

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY

Richmond Solar PV Project (Marin Clean Energy)

2015-09-29 Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo – DEIR Comments – Richmond Solar PV Project – Marin Clean Energy CCA

FRESNO COUNTY

See Protests Over Valley Solar Projects Called a Ploy – Fresno Bee – April 29, 2012

Adame 1 – Gestamp Asetym Solar

Giffen 1 – Gestamp Asetym Solar

Inspiration Solar Generation Farm

Placer Solar

Three Rocks Solar

IMPERIAL COUNTY

Solar Gen 2 Solar Array: Alhambra, Arkansas, and Sonora

Calexico Solar Farm 1, Calexico Solar Farm 2, Mt. Signal

Calipatria Solar Farm 1 and 2, Midway Solar Farm 1 and 2

Campo Verde

Imperial Valley Solar Company 2

KERN COUNTY

Beacon Photovoltaic Project

Catalina Renewable Energy Project

Kingbird Solar

Pioneer Green Solar Project

Recurrent Energy 10 Solar Projects: RE Rosamond One, RE Rosamond Two, RE Tehachapi Solar, RE Tehachapi Solar 2, RE Columbia, Columbia Two, RE Columbia 3, RE Rio Grande, RE Great Lakes, RE Barren Ridge

Recurrent Energy Old River One

Valley Solar Project: Smyrna, Goose Lake. Elk Hills, San Bernard

Willow Springs Solar Array

KINGS COUNTY

Aurora

Corcoran West

GWF Henrietta

Recurrent Energy Solar Projects

Finally, ordinary citizens in the San Joaquin Valley learn how construction trade unions block solar power plant projects by exploiting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

According to union front groups such as California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), the construction and operation of a solar-powered electrical generating facility has the potential to devastate the environment; that is, until the developer agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions.

Stratford Photovoltaic Solar Facility

LOS ANGELES COUNTY

Alpine Solar

Antelope Valley Solar

Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One (AVSR1)

Silverado Power 20 MW and 40 MW – City of Lancaster
Soccer Center Solar Facility – City of Lancaster
MONTEREY COUNTY

California Flats

RIVERSIDE COUNTY

Desert Harvest Solar Farm

Desert Sunlight Solar Farm

McCoy Solar Energy Project

SAN BENITO COUNTY

Panoche Valley Solar Farm

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY

Agincourt and Marathon

Alamo Oro Grade Solar Project

Aries Solar

Kramer Junction – Boulevard Associates

Kramer Junction – Lightsource Renewables

Lucerne Valley

Sunray Energy – Daggett

Stateline Solar Farm Project

SAN DIEGO COUNTY

Sol Orchard Ramona

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY

California Valley Solar Ranch

Topaz

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Cuyama Solar Facility

STANISLAUS COUNTY

Fink Road Solar Farm

McHenry Solar Farm

TULARE COUNTY

Great Valley Solar


Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.