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Building Worker and Community-focused Economic Transitions in Coal Country

The New (Renewable) Energy Tyranny

By Al Weinrub - Non Profit Quarterly, July 13, 2023

There are two very different (and antagonistic) renewable energy models: the utility-centered, centralized energy model—the existing dominant one—and the community-centered, decentralized energy model—what energy justice advocates have been pushing for. Although both models utilize the same technologies (solar generation, energy storage, and so on), they have very different physical characteristics (remote versus local energy resources, transmission lines or not). But the key difference is that they represent very different socioeconomic energy development models and very different impacts on our communities and living ecosystems.

Let me start by recounting some recent history in California—the state often regarded as a leader in the clean energy transition.

In recent years, California’s energy system has failed the state’s communities in almost too many ways to count: utility-caused wildfires, utility power shutoffs, and skyrocketing utility bills, for starters. Currently, state energy institutions are advancing an all-out effort to suppress local community ownership and control of energy resources—the decentralized energy model.

Instead, they are promoting and enforcing an outmoded, top-down, utility-centered, extractive, and unjust energy regime—the centralized energy model—which effectively eliminates local energy decision-making and local energy resource development. This model forces communities to pay the enormous costs of unneeded transmission line construction and bear the massive burden of transmission line failures.

Using the power of the state to enforce the centralized energy model is at the heart of California’s new renewable energy tyranny. And this tyranny has now spread to the federal level, as substantial public investment is now set to go toward large-scale renewable energy projects across the country. These projects will be controlled by and benefit an increasingly powerful renewable energy oligarchy. Being touted as a solution to what is popularly regarded as the “climate emergency,” this centralized energy model has actually failed to meet our communities’ energy needs, and at the same time has exacerbated systemic energy injustice.

The New Math for Wind and Solar Manufacturing Supports Good Jobs and U.S. Manufacturing

By Yohan Min, Maarten Brinkerink, Jesse Jenkins, and Erin Mayfield - Blue Green Alliance, June 9, 2023

Researchers at Dartmouth and Princeton released a BlueGreen Alliance-funded report on the estimated impacts the Inflation Reduction Act will have on the U.S. wind and solar industry, including changes in wind and solar manufacturing, labor standards for clean energy workers, job creation, and demand for materials. Specifically, the report explores the impacts of the law’s clean electricity production and investment tax credits (PTC and ITC) and the 45x Advanced Manufacturing Production Tax Credit.

The report finds that the Inflation Reduction Act offers wind and solar developers an airtight business case to use U.S.-manufactured components and pay workers fair wages. It has always been the right thing to do. Now it’s also the most economical thing to do. 

By transforming the economics of wind and solar power, the Inflation Reduction Act will spur the creation of millions of new U.S. solar and wind manufacturing and deployment jobs, with strong incentives for fair wages and career pathways.

The findings show strong, unprecedented potential to build our clean energy future on a foundation of good jobs, clean manufacturing, a reliable industrial base, and greater equity.

Bypassing the Culture Wars to Energize Rural-led Climate Solutions

BPRA: A Win in the Fight for a Green New Deal

The Green New Deal in the Cities, Part 1: Boston

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 16, 2023

While the Green New Deal started as a proposed national program, some of the most impressive implementations of its principles and policies are occurring at a municipal level. Part 1 of “The Green New Deal in the Cities” provides an extended account of the Boston Green New Deal, perhaps the most comprehensive effort so far to apply Green New Deal principles in a major city. Part 2 presents Green New Deal-style programs developing in Los Angeles and Seattle, and reviews the programs and policies being adapted in cities around the country to use climate protection as a vehicle for creating jobs and challenging injustice.

Urban politics often seem to produce not so much benefit for the people as inequality, exclusion, and private gain for the wealthiest. Does it have to be that way? In cities throughout the US, new political formations, often under the banner of the Green New Deal, are creating a new form of urban politics. They pursue the Green New Deal’s core objectives of fighting climate change in ways that produce good jobs and increase equality. They are based on coalitions of impoverished urban neighborhoods, disempowered racial and ethnic groups, organized labor, and advocates for climate and the environment. They involved widespread democratic mobilization. A case in point is the Boston Green New Deal.

Steel built the Rust Belt. Green steel could help rebuild it

By Katie Myers - Grist, May 11, 2023

In the Mon Valley of western Pennsylvania, steel was once a way of life, one synonymous with the image of rural, working-class Rust Belt communities. At its height in 1910, Pittsburgh alone produced 25 million tons of it, or 60 percent of the nation’s total. Bustling mills linger along the Monongahela River and around Pittsburgh, but employment has been steadily winding down for decades.

Though President Trump promised a return to the idealized vision of American steelmaking that Bruce Springsteen might sing about, the industry has changed since its initial slump four decades ago. Jobs declined 49 percent between 1990 and 2021, when increased efficiency saw the sector operating at its highest capacity in 14 years. Despite ongoing supply chain hiccups and inflation, demand continues growing globally, particularly in Asia. But even as demand for this essential material climbs, so too does the pressure to decarbonize its production.

Earlier this month, the progressive Ohio River Valley Institute released a study that found a carefully planned transition to “green” steel — manufactured using hydrogen generated with renewable energy — could be a climatic and economic boon. It argues that as countries work toward achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, a green steel boom in western Pennsylvania could help the U.S. meet that goal, make its steel industry competitive again, and employ a well-paid industrial workforce.

“A transition to fossil fuel-free steelmaking could grow total jobs supported by steelmaking in the region by 27 percent to 43 percent by 2031, forestalling projected job losses,” the study noted. “Regional jobs supported by traditional steelmaking are expected to fall by 30 percent in the same period.”

How to Win a Green New Deal in Your State

By Ashley Dawson - The Nation, May 11, 2023

New York passed a publicly funded renewable energy program. This is how DSA did it—and how you can too.

New York just became the first US state to pass a major Green New Deal policy. After four years of organizing, the Build Public Renewables Act (BPRA) is now in the New York state budget. Passage of the act is a massive challenge to fossil fuel hegemony and a major victory for public power.

The BPRA authorizes and directs the state’s public power provider—the New York Power Authority (NYPA)—to plan, build, and operate renewable energy projects across the state to meet the ambitious timetable to decarbonize the grid mandated by the Climate Act of 2019. The NYPA, the largest public utility in the country, provides the most affordable energy in the state, but until now, it has been prohibited from building and owning new utility-scale renewable generation projects because of lobbying by profit-seeking private energy companies.

How did we win passage of this plan to start a publicly funded renewable energy program?

The Public Power NY movement began in late 2019 with a campaign organized by the eco-socialist working group of the NYC Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) against a rate hike request from the private utility ConEd. According to a 2018 report from the US Energy Information Administration, ConEd was already charging the second-highest residential rates of any major utility in the country (nearly double the national average), and now they wanted to raise electricity rates an additional 6 percent and gas rates by 11 percent.

To thwart this request, the Public Power campaign did intensive research into the for-profit utility’s recent history and found that though ConEd was making a billion dollars per year in profits, it had threatened to shut off power for 2 million low-income New Yorkers in 2018. Moreover, ConEd had failed to carry out grid upgrades that it had received $350 million to perform, a failure that left the power grid in an increasingly unstable state.

Best Practices for Implementation: How the Lessons from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Can Ensure the Inflation Reduction Act Delivers Good Jobs and Community Benefits

By staff - Blue Green Alliance, May 1, 2023

On November 15, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL)—also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law includes $550 billion in new federal funding to repair and help rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. The following year, on August 16, 2022, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law. These two laws hold the transformational potential to reduce pollution, prevent the worst impacts of climate change, make our workers and communities safer and healthier, and create the good-paying, union jobs we need to give all workers in the United States the opportunity for a middle-class life.

Federal agencies are playing a crucial role in uplifting workers and communities as they develop programmatic requirements and incentives to implement BIL and Inflation Reduction Act investments. In parallel, the Biden administration laid out clear commitments to maximize the job quality, equity, and community benefits of these laws and other federal spending through executive orders and initiatives. The president and his administration are seeking to deliver on their commitment to working people by advancing high-road labor standards and securing worker rights and protections through policies such as Executive Order 14063 on Project Labor Agreements (PLAs).

By working to more consistently apply the Good Jobs Principles and associated metrics across Inflation Reduction Act and BIL-funded programs, agencies can help advance equity and rebuild the middle class. Federal agencies that have not already entered into MOUs with the DOL to support this effort should do so.

Download a copy of this publication here (link).

Whose Green Transition? Ours!

By Keith Brower Brown - Labor Notes, April 25, 2023

Huge changes are coming for our workplaces, quick as a heat wave. This month Joe Biden inked new rules to make all-electrics the majority of new cars sold in America within a decade.

o charge all those batteries, many of the largest states are pushing to power their grids with two-thirds clean energy by the same deadline.

These green shifts have put billion-dollar signs in the eyes of bosses. Public cash is pouring out to subsidize cleaner manufacturing and energy. Corporations aim to cash in double by cutting unions out.

Automakers like General Motors are setting up huge parts of the electric car supply chain in anti-union “joint venture” plants. Solar energy jobs, as of 2022, were 90 percent non-union across the country. Union-busting is even more disgusting in a green disguise.

But as the song goes, “Without our brains and muscle, not a single wheel can turn.” That goes for electric wheels, too.

The enormous sweat and smarts needed for any climate transition worth the name give workers huge potential leverage, from electricians in Arizona to auto workers in Tennessee.

And around these green boom-towns, childcare, education, health, and logistics workers could see their leverage grow, too.

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