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Unions Pester Community Choice Aggregation Energy Programs in California

Where there is innovation, there is union interference.

Marin Clean Energy, the first “Community Choice Aggregation” program in California, is planning to build a solar farm on a “brownfield” in the City of Richmond. Only one party objected to the project on environmental grounds: “Bay Area Citizens for Responsible Solar,” a front group for California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE).

It’s just the latest in a series of environmental objections by unions to bend the policies of Community Choice Aggregators.

What Are Community Choice Aggregation Programs?

Community Choice Aggregation programs are authorized in California by Assembly Bill 117, signed into law by Governor Gray Davis in 2002. The concept was elaborated in Senate Bill 790, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2011. The California Public Utilities Commission regulates Community Choice Aggregation.

These programs allow electric customers to circumvent buying power from major investor-owned public utilities such as Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E). Instead, customers purchase electricity bought or generated by government-run utilities organized as a “Joint Powers Authority.”

Investor-owned utilities maintain transmission and distribution infrastructure and perform other services for customers. When a local government joins a Community Choice Aggregation program, electric customers in that jurisdiction are automatically transferred to that program unless the customer pro-actively chooses to opt-out and remain with the investor-owned utility.

Community Choice Aggregators are independently managed and directed by an appointed board that represents participating local governments. For example, the board of Marin Clean Energy includes representatives of the following governments now participating in the program: the Marin County cities of Novato, Corte Madera, Fairfax, San Anselmo, Larkspur, Belvedere, San Rafael, Tiburon, Ross, Mill Valley, and Sausalito; the Solano County city of Benicia; the Contra Costa County cities of Richmond, El Cerrito, and San Pablo; the County of Marin, and unincorporated parts of the County of Napa. Other cities in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the process of joining the program, and they will have representation on the board.

Programs such as Marin Clean Energy market themselves as having lower rates and generating more power from “renewable” energy sources, such as solar, wind, bioenergy, geothermal, and small hydro. Marin Clean Energy claimed that in January 2016 its generation rates were 14% lower on average than PG&E’s generation rates and would have been even lower without a “Power Charge Indifference Adjustment” (PCIA) fee charged to customers who do not choose to remain with PG&E.

Community Choice Aggregation Is a Juicy Target for the Left

As shown by the California High-Speed Rail project, any ambitious project or program proposed in California is immediately targeted by numerous leftist interest groups that see an opportunity to advance their agenda. From the beginning, unions targeted Community Choice Aggregation programs as a vehicle to organize the “renewable energy” workforce through a so-called “Blue-Green Alliance.”

A Genuine California Union ConspiracyIn fact, Senate Bill 790 included an obscure provision – added at the demand of union lobbyists – to allow ratepayer money to be diverted into Labor-Management Cooperation Committees that fund environmental objections to energy projects and make massive contributions to campaigns to pass or defeat ballot measures.

See the October 18, 2012 UnionWatch article Mysterious Union Slush Fund Spends $100,000 Against Costa Mesa Charter, featuring a link to the TheTruthAboutPLAs article A Genuine California Union Conspiracy: Senate Bill 790 and the California Building Trades Council’s Ratepayer Funded Political Slush Fund, which links to the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction’s “Investigative Report: A Genuine Union Conspiracy.”

In 2012, the California Construction Industry Labor Management Trust (“CILMT”) began submitting comments to the California Public Utilities Commission about proposed regulations for Community Choice Aggregators.

Unions Don’t Like Competition

Marin Clean Energy has been targeted by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union 1245, which represents employees at Pacific Gas & Electric. This union argued that the Community Choice Aggregation programs would harm the environment by buying power from Shell Energy North America, which generates more than 90% of its power from non-renewable sources, including coal. For example, in a June 4, 2014 letter to the Napa County Board of Supervisors, IBEW Local 1245 demanded that the Napa County Board of Supervisors prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before joining Marin Clean Energy.

June 4, 2014 Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo Demand EIR on behalf of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers IBEW Local 1245 – Marin Clean Energy – County of Napa

IBEW Local 1245 also targeted the CleanPowerSF Community Choice Aggregation program and demanded an Environmental Impact Report before the implementation of that program:

August 13, 2013 San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Meeting Minutes – CleanPowerSF Community Choice Aggregation – International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers IBEW Local 1245 Objections

January 30, 2013 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers IBEW Local 1245 – Community Choice Aggregation Needs Close Scrutiny

What unions really want is a Project Labor Agreement.

If You Plan to Build a Solar Plant in California, Expect Union Hassles

A position paper of the “East Bay Clean Power Alliance” entitled “Promoting a Labor-friendly Alameda County Community Choice Energy Program” calls for all construction under a Project Labor Agreement and explains how Community Choice Aggregation programs would bring construction workers into a union:

As a public program, it can prioritize public good over profit, and work with unions to generate high-road, family-sustaining jobs, utilize union apprenticeship and other entry-level job programs, and offer pathways out of poverty, especially in low income communities…A Community Choice energy program can be a unique vehicle for opening up the largely non-union community-based energy sector to union employment. This is possible because of the program’s ability to set work standards and also to aggregate smaller installation projects into larger projects more amenable to union labor agreements.

The idea is that a Community Choice Aggregation program would negotiate a Project Labor Agreement with California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), a Sacramento-based coalition of  unions, to cover all solar construction and maintenance, large and small.

Marin Clean Energy Is Targeted with Greenmail

According to the Marin Clean Energy website, “many local solar projects are under development in MCE’s service area including MCE Solar One, Cooley Quarry, Buck Institute, and Cost Plus.” A company signatory to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers won the contract to build the Buck Institute solar project.

MCE Solar One is the biggest solar plant proposed by Marin Clean Energy: a 10.5 megawatt project to be built on a 49-acre landfill site near a refinery in Richmond owned by Chevron. According to the Marin Clean Energy website, “Local communities are gearing up for construction of the largest publicly owned solar project in the Bay Area!”

Not so fast.

Unions were targeting this project, as shown through public comment at an August 19, 2015 community meeting about the project. On September 29, 2015, a group called “Bay Area Citizens for Responsible Solar” submitted a 31-page letter plus expert testimony and exhibits objecting under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for MCE Solar One, also known as the Richmond Solar PV Project. What sounds like a community environmental organization is actually a front group for California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE).

September 29, 2015 Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo – DEIR Comments – Richmond Solar PV Project – Marin Clean Energy Community Choice Aggregation – Letter

September 29, 2015 Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo – DEIR Comments – Richmond Solar PV Project – Marin Clean Energy Community Choice Aggregation – Exhibits

Staff wasn’t impressed, as shown in the response to the union comments:

September 29, 2015 Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo – DEIR Comments – Richmond Solar PV Project – Marin Clean Energy Community Choice Aggregation – Staff Response

Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardoza Objects to FEIR - Richmond Solar PV Project - Marin Clean EnergyAs is typical with union environmental objections, attorneys for California Unions for Reliable Energy submitted another round of comments at the last minute objecting to the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR). After examining the documents at the November 19, 2015 meeting of the Marin Clean Energy board, legal counsel declared that the late submissions contained nothing new of concern. The board unanimously approved the FEIR.

One board member said “it is a sad day that CEQA has really become less and less about the environment and more and more about power. Governor Brown has tried to address this with reform to CEQA and this item follows that direction.”

November 19, 2015 Marin Clean Energy Board Minutes – Approval of FEIR for Richmond Solar PV Project

Don’t count on that reform coming anytime soon.


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.