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‘It’s virtually impossible’: Transition to renewables at risk as oil and gas workers struggle to access green jobs

By Daisy Dunne - The Independent., June 22, 2021

The UK’s transition away from fossil fuels to renewable power could be put at risk by barriers facing oil and gas workers looking to move into green jobs, campaigners say.

A survey of 600 offshore workers found that those looking to move from the fossil fuel industry into green jobs in renewable power currently face costly training fees, discouraging them from making the transition.

Workers responding to the poll said they are routinely forced to pay out thousands of pounds of their own cash for training courses when moving between one employer and another in the offshore sector, some of which they have already paid to take part in for their current positions.

One 42-year-old who has worked in the oil and gas sector for 20 years said the cost of training could be putting workers off trying to move into green jobs.

“People really need help to make the transition because it’s just virtually impossible to do it yourself with the way things are at the moment,” he told The Independent. None of the oil and gas workers interviewed wanted to provide their names, for fear of losing work.

He added he was hoping to see more opportunities in renewable power as the country transitions away from using fossil fuels.

“For me, it’s about moving forward in my career and about moving forward for the environment at the same time. I’ve got two young children and I can see the changes that are happening to the climate, it’s obvious to me.”

One 43-year-old who has worked in the sector for 24 years said that he would “love” to see more opportunities in renewable energy.

“I was one of the people living in a bubble thinking ‘that might not be quite right’ when it came to climate change. But it’s really my kids that brought it home to me,” he told The Independent.

Clean energy jobs as a transition destination

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, June 15, 2021

Released on June 3, Responding to Automation: Building a Cleaner Future is a new analysis by the Conference Board of Canada, in partnership with the Future Skills Centre. It investigates the potential for clean energy jobs as a career transition destination for workers at high risk of losing their jobs because of automation. The clean energy occupations were identified from three areas: clean energy production, energy efficiency , and environmental management and the “rapid growth” jobs identified range from wind turbine technicians and power-line installers to industrial engineers, sheet metal workers, and geospatial information scientists. Based on interviews with clean economy experts, as well as the interview responses from over five hundred workers across Canada, the analysis identifies the structural barriers holding employers and workers back from transition:

  • Lack of consistent financial support for workers to reskill
  • Employer hesitancy to hire inexperienced workers
  • Current demand for relevant occupations which makes change less attractive
  • Lack of awareness around potential transition opportunities
  • Personal relocation barriers, such as high living costs in new cities, and family commitments.

None of the recommended actions to overcome the barriers include a role for unions, with the burden for action falling largely on the individual employee. Only summary information is presented as a web document, but this research is part of a larger focus on automation, so it can be hoped that a fuller report will be published – if so, the partner group, Future Skills, maintains a Research website where it will likely be available.

Other news about renewable energy jobs:

“Renewable Energy Boom Unleashes a War Over Talent for Green Jobs” appeared in Bloomberg Green News (June 8), describing shortages of skilled workers in renewable energy, mainly in the U.S.. It also summarizes a U.K. report which forecasts a large need for workers in the U.K. offshore industry, which is expected to be met by people transferring from the oil and gas sector.

A report by the Global Wind Energy Council forecasts a growth of 3.3 million wind jobs worldwide by 2025, and suggests that offshore wind energy jobs could offer a natural transition for workers dislocated from offshore oil and gas and marine engineering workers. According to the analysis, in 2020, there were approximately 550,000 wind energy workers in China, 260,00 in Brazil, 115,000 in the US and 63,000 in India. A related report, The Global Wind Workforce Outlook 2021-2025 forecasts a large training gap: the global wind industry will need to train over 480,000 people in the next five years to construct, install, operate and maintain the world’s growing onshore and offshore wind fleet. That report is available for download here (registration required), and is summarized in this press release.

And forthcoming: Clean Energy Canada will release its research on the clean energy labour market in Canada on June 17. Their last jobs report, The Fast Lane: Tracking the Energy Revolution, was released in 2019.

We can't mine our way out of climate crisis

By Hannibal Rhoades and Andy Whitmore - The Ecologist, May 25, 2021

A new and thorny environmental debate is breaking into mainstream conversations about climate breakdown.

We are going to need a vast supply of ‘transition minerals' like lithium and nickel - used in everything from wind turbines to solar panels to electric vehicles - if we are to papidly accelerate our switch to renewable energy.

Obtaining enough of these minerals while scaling up supply to meet rapidly growing demand represents a serious potential bottleneck in achieving global climate targets. How will we get these minerals and metals - and can we get them quickly enough?

Colonialism

This discussion has moved from activist and academic meeting rooms to the Washington DC, Beijing and Brussels. And mining corporations, ever-alert for a profit-making opportunity, have begun presenting themselves as our climate saviours.

Clean, green, sustainable, responsible mining, they say, will deliver the materials we need to meet our climate commitments. Policymakers have largely accepted the mining industry’s presentation of itself in these glowing terms.

Critical minerals task forces and industrial alliances are proliferating among wealthy nations. The aim is finding ways to secure supply. Governments around the world - both in the Global South and the North - are competing to attract foreign mining investment, often linked to the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For anyone who cares about climate justice, this is not good news.

Industrial-scale mining is synonymous with a long history of colonialism, oppression and ecological devastation. The industry has an appalling human rights record to this day where frontline communities and workers are concerned.

American Jobs Plan Can Accelerate Solar Power in West Virginia

By Autumn Long and Ted Boettner - Ohio River Valley Institute, May 25, 2021

As a recent article in Forbes noted, the ‘dam has broken’ in West Virginia for solar power. While solar energy comprises less than 0.2 percent of electricity production in the state today, the market for solar energy is marching forward. Despite not having a renewable energy portfolio standard – which would require that utilities get a certain percentage of the electricity they sell in the state from renewable resources – like 30 other states, West Virginia lawmakers have started opening more doors for solar power. For example, state lawmakers this year legalized purchase power agreements (PPAs) to allow third parties to own and operate solar installations for customers while charging them a fixed rate that is typically lower that what the customer pays for electricity. In 2020, the West Virginia Legislature created a utility solar program that allows the state’s investor-owned utilities (FirstEnergy and American Electric Power) to produce as much as 200 megawatts of solar electricity each.

A flurry of new solar projects is now under development in the state. Toyota announced plans to spend $4.9 million to construct a 2.6-Megawatt solar array at its manufacturing plant in Buffalo, West Virginia. In October 2020, the WV Public Service Commission approved plans for a $90 million investment to build a 90-Megawatt solar farm in Raleigh County. Earlier this year, a 100-Megawatt utility-scale solar project was announced at the former Dupont Potomac River Works manufacturing facility in Berkeley County. And earlier this month, Nitro Construction Services acquired local solar installation company Revolt Energy, with plans to expand operation throughout the state on former coal mine sites. Revolt had recently installed a 487-kilowatt rooftop solar array (1,200 solar panels) at Nitro Construction Services’ headquarters in Putnam County.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), West Virginia ranks last (50th) in solar production in the nation with just 11.2 megawatts of installed solar power and less than $35 million in total solar investment in the state. Total solar jobs in the state were just 311 in the 4th quarter of 2020, with 18 solar companies operating in the state. Between 2012 and 2020, the number of solar jobs in West Virginia has grown by 241.

An October 2020 report by E2 found that jobs in solar pay close to what jobs in the coal, oil, and gas industries pay, $24.48 an hour (median) compared to $24.37 an hour (median), respectively. Approximately 10 percent of solar industry jobs are unionized, according to the Solar Foundation, which is above the national average and similar to levels found throughout the construction industry. Wage data for solar employment is not available for West Virginia, but it is likely below the national average.

There are a number of policy proposals at the federal level that could lead to significant acceleration in West Virginia’s solar industry. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan includes two key provisions, including a 10-year extension of the federal solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which currently offers a 26% tax credit for solar installations, and an expanded direct cash payment in lieu of the ITC that allows solar owners to receive money even if they don’t have taxable income, much like a refundable tax credit. A cash grant option would ensure equitable benefits of the ITC are accessible to low- and moderate-income households, people with low tax liability, and nonprofit institutions such as schools, churches, local governments, and rural electric cooperatives.

Congress Should Enact a Federal Renewable Electricity Standard and Reject Gas and False Solutions

By various - (690 Organizations), May 13, 2021

Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Manchin, and Chairman Pallone,

On behalf of our millions of members and activists nationwide, we, the undersigned 697 organizations—including climate, environmental and energy justice, democracy, faith, Indigenous, and racial justice groups—urge you to pass a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) in the infrastructure package and reject gas and other false climate solutions to address the climate emergency.

As Congress prepares to pass a historic infrastructure package and President Biden has globally pledged to slash carbon emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030, we should look to the 28 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico that have passed Renewable Electricity Standards (also known as renewable portfolio standards), as opposed to only seven states with Clean Electricity Standards (CES). The bold leadership demonstrated in RES-leading states like Hawaii, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. provide a roadmap to building a new renewable energy future. Funding this transition must start with shifting all fossil fuel subsidies to mass renewable energy deployment.

Renewable energy sources are sources that naturally replenish and are most often defined as solar, wind, and geothermal power. In contrast, so-called “clean” energy standards generally encompass these renewable sources but also include other technologies, like gas with or without carbon capture and sequestration, biomass, and nuclear, which are significant sources of pollution and carry a host of health and safety risks. In order to avoid perpetuating the deep racial, social, and ecological injustices of our current fossil-fueled energy system, Congress should ensure that any federal energy standard does not include these dirty energy sources.

Specifically, we write to express our concern that recent Clean Electricity Standard (CES) legislation, including the CLEAN Future Act (H.R. 1512), embed these injustices because they include gas and false solutions. The inclusion of gas and carbon capture and storage as qualifying energies in any CES undermines efforts to end the fossil fuel era and halt the devastating pollution disproportionately experienced by Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other communities of color in this country. Even a partial credit for fossil fuel resources that attempts to factor in lifecycle emissions runs the risk of subsidizing environmental harm for years to come. Allowing dirty energy to be bundled with clean energy under a federal energy standard would prolong the existence of sacrifice zones around dirty energy investments and delay the transition to a system of 100 percent truly clean, renewable energy.

Utility Workers Union and UCS estimate costs to transition U.S. coal miners and power plant workers in joint report

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 12, 2021

Hard on the heels of the April statement by the United Mine Workers Union, Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition, the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) jointly released a report with the Union of Concerned Scientists on May 4: Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape. This report is described as “a call to action for thoughtful and intentional planning and comprehensive support for coal-dependent workers and communities across the nation.” The report estimates that in 2019, there were 52,804 workers in coal mining and 37,071 people employed at coal-fired power plants – and that eventually all will lose their jobs as coal gives way to cleaner energy sources. Like the United Mine Workers, the report acknowledges that the energy shift is already underway, and “rather than offer false hope for reinvigorated coal markets, we must acknowledge that thoughtful and intentional planning and comprehensive support are critical to honoring the workers and communities that have sacrificed so much to build this country.”

Specifically, the report calls for a minimum level of support for workers of five years of wage replacement, health coverage, continued employer contributions to retirement funds or pension plans, and tuition and job placement assistance. The cost estimates of such supports are pegged at $33 billion over 25 years and $83 billion over 15 years —and do not factor in additional costs such as health benefits for workers suffering black lung disease, or mine clean-up costs. The report states: “we must ensure that coal companies and utilities are held liable for the costs to the greatest extent possible before saddling taxpayers with the bill.” Neither do the cost estimates include the recognized needs for community supports such as programs to diversify the economies, or support to ensure that essential services such as fire, police and education are supported, despite the diminished tax base. 

The report points to the precedents set by Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities ( 2018), the German Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment (2019), as well as the New Mexico Energy Transition Act 2019 and the Colorado Just Transition Action Plan in 2020. The 12-page report, Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape was accompanied by a Technical Report, and summarized in a UCS Blog which highlights the situation in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. A 2018 report from UCS Soot to Solar also examined Illinois.

Covid-19 causes decline in solar, clean energy jobs in the U.S.

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 10, 2021

The 11th annual National Solar Jobs Census was released by the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association on May 6, reporting that 231,474 people worked across all sectors of the industry in 2020 – a 6.7% decrease from 2019. The decrease in jobs is attributed to the impacts of Covid-19, as well as an increase in labour productivity – up 19% in the residential sector, 2% in the non-residential sector and 32% in the utility-scale sector. Thus, despite employing fewer workers, the solar industry installed record levels of solar capacity in 2020, with 73% of installations in “ Utility-scale installations”.

According to the 2020 Solar Jobs Census, 10.3% of solar workers in the U.S. are unionized, above the national average and compared to 12.7% of all construction trades. The report offers details about demographic, geographic, and labour market data – for example, showing an improvement in diversity in the workforce. Since 2015, it reports a 39% increase for women, 92% increase for Hispanic or Latino workers, 18% increase for Asian American and Pacific Islander workers, and a 73% increase for Black or African American workers. Wages for benchmark solar occupations are provided, showing levels similar to, and often higher than, wages for similar occupations in other industries.

The 2020 Solar Jobs Census defines a solar worker as anyone who spends more than 50% of their working time in solar-related activities. It is a joint publication of the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Solar Foundation, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and BW Research Partnership. It uses publicly available data from the 2021 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), produced by BW Research Partnership, the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), and the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO). Solar is included in their reports, which cover the broader energy industry (The U.S. 2020 Energy & Employment Report and the supplementary report, Wages Benefits and Change) .

The reported decrease in solar jobs is also consistent with the message in Clean Jobs America 2021 , published by E2 Consultants in April. That report found a decrease in total clean energy jobs from 3.36 million in 2019 to 3 million at the end of 2020, although despite the decline, the report states: “clean energy remains the biggest job creator across America’s energy sector, employing nearly three times as many workers as work in fossil fuel extraction and generation.” The report includes renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electric vehicle manufacturing in their coverage.

Biden’s Climate Pledge Is a Promise He Cannot Keep

By Howie Hawkins - Solidarity, May 4, 2021

IWW EUC web editor's disclaimer: the IWW does not advoate electralism or endorse political parties, including the Green Party. This article is included to provide a critique of the reformism of the Democratic Party (a similar critique could be offered about the Greens and all other parties).

The climate emergency demands a radical and rapid decarbonization of the U.S. economy with numerical goals and timetables to transform all productive sectors, not only power production (27% of carbon emissions), but also transportation (28%), manufacturing (22%), buildings (12%), and agriculture (10%). It also requires that the U.S. pay its “climate debt” as the world’s largest historical carbon emitter and destroyer of carbon-storing forests, wetlands, and soils. Paying that climate debt would not only be reparations to the Global South for deforestation and fossil fuel emissions by the rich capitalist countries, but also an investment in the habitability of the planet for everyone. This emergency transformation can only be met by an ecosocialist approach emphasizing democratic public enterprise and planning.

Instead, Biden’s plan features corporate welfare: subsidies and tax incentives for clean energy that will take uncertain effect at a leisurely pace in the markets. It does nothing to stop more oil and gas fracking and pipelines for more gas-fired power plants, or to shut down coal-fired power plants. Without out directly saying so, it is a plan to burn fossil fuels for decades to come.

The scale of spending falls pathetically short of what is needed to decarbonize the economy. An effective plan would not only reach zero emissions on a fast timeline. It would also move quickly toward negative emissions. We have to draw carbon out of the atmosphere because we are already well past carbon levels that are triggering dangerous climate change.

Biden’s stated goal of a 50% cut in emissions does not actually cut current emissions in half. His proposed 50% cut is from a baseline of 2005 when emissions were at their peak, not what they are today. Emissions were 6 GtC (gigatons of carbon dioxide) in 2005. Due to a leveling of electric power demand, a trend away from coal to wind, solar, and gas for electric power, and more energy-efficient vehicles, U.S. emissions were down 13% from 2005 by 2019 to 5.1 GtC and, due to the covid contraction, down 21% in 2020 to 4.6 GtC, although emissions are now soaring back up as the economy re-opens. Biden’s goal of 50% below 2005 is 3 GtC per year in emissions instead of 2.5 GtC if 2019 were the baseline, or 2.3 GtC if 2020 were the baseline.

Biden provided no explanation for how the U.S. will get to the precisely stated range of “50% to 52%.” 52% seems to be an arbitrary number pulled out of the air so he can say he is aiming for more than 50%. Greta Thunberg’s video prebuttal to the targets that were to be announced by Biden and the other 40 world leaders at his Earth Day Climate Summit saw right through the staged spectacle. “We can keep cheating in order to pretend that these targets are in line with what is needed, but while we can fool others, and even ourselves, we cannot fool nature and physics… Let’s call out their bullshit.”

In Broad Daylight: Uyghur Forced Labour and Global Solar Supply Chains

By Laura T Murphy and Nyrola Elima - Sheffield Hallam University, May 2021

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has placed millions of indigenous Uyghur and Kazakh citizens from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR or Uyghur Region) into what the government calls “surplus labour” (富余劳动力) and “labour transfer” (劳动力转移)programmes. An official PRC government report published in November 2020 documents the “placement” of 2.6 million minoritised citizens in jobs in farms and factories within the Uyghur Region and across the country through these state-sponsored “surplus labour” and “labour transfer” initiatives. The government claims that these programmes are in accordance with PRC law and that workers are engaged voluntarily, in a concerted government-supported effort to alleviate poverty. However, significant evidence – largely drawn from government and corporate sources – reveals that labour transfers are deployed in the Uyghur Region within an environment of unprecedented coercion, undergirded by the constant threat of re-education and internment. Many indigenous workers are unable to refuse or walk away from these jobs, and thus the programmes are tantamount to forcible transfer of populations and enslavement.

It is critical that we examine the particular goods that are being produced as a result of this forced labour regime. This paper focuses on just one of those industries – the solar energy industry – and reveals the ways forced labour in the Uyghur Region can pervade an entire supply chain and reach deep into international markets. We concluded that the solar industry is particularly vulnerable to forced labour in the Uyghur Region because:

  • 95% of solar modules rely on one primary material – solar-grade polysilicon.
  • Polysilicon manufacturers in the Uyghur Region account for approximately 45% of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon supply.
  • All polysilicon manufacturers in the Uyghur Region have reported their participation in labour transfer programmes and/or are supplied by raw materials companies that have.
  • In 2020, China produced an additional 30% of the world’s polysilicon on top of that produced in the Uyghur Region, a significant proportion of which may be affected by forced labour in the Uyghur Region as well.

In the course of this research, we identified:

  • 11 companies engaged in labour transfers
  • 4 additional companies located within industrial parks that have accepted labour transfers
  • 90 Chinese and international companies whose supply chains are affected

This report seeks to increase the knowledge base upon which the solar industry determines its exposures to forced labour in the Uyghur Region. We investigated the entire solar module supply chain from quartz to panel to better understand the extent to which forced labour in the Uyghur region affects international value chains. The examples of engagement in these programs are meant to provide stakeholders with the evidence base upon which to judge risk of exposure to forced labour in the solar supply chain.

Read the Report (PDF).

Public energy companies necessary for a fair transition

By Dries Goedertier - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, April 19, 2021

The debacle with the reversing electricity meter [also called “net-metering” in many contexts — a billing mechanism that credits solar capacity owners for electricity they feed into the grid] shows the limits of Flemish energy policy, which places the responsibility for the much-needed energy transition in the hands of the individual as consumer, investor and entrepreneur. For a socially just and democratic energy transition, the necessary efforts of energy cooperatives will not be sufficient. Only the state can regain control of the energy sector on behalf of, and for the benefit of, society as a whole.

Flemish energy policy has recently suffered from a severe heat stroke. The Constitutional Court has put an end to the reversing electricity meter. The decision dealt a heavy blow to those families who, after the (apparently worthless) guarantees of a bunch of liberal energy ministers about the legality of this particular support scheme, decided to install solar panels on their roofs before the deadline of January 1, 2021. Many of them feel cheated and that is certainly understandable. However, a critical inquiry should not stop there. The whole debacle shows the limits of an energy policy that places the responsibility for the much-needed energy transition in the hands of the individual as a consumer, investor and entrepreneur. 

“The sun has become a neoliberal investment product,” stated Dirk Holemans (Oikos). Holemans, together with Dirk Vansintjan (Ecopower & REScoop.EU), is arguing for a shift to a collective model in which citizens pool their resources and capacities in energy cooperatives. There is indeed a lot to be said for that. After all, energy cooperatives have a lot to offer in terms of democratic, social and ecological benefits. 

If we really want to democratize the energy sector in function of social and environmental objectives, then public energy companies will have to play a major part

In my opinion, however, the admirable self-organization of thousands of citizens will not be enough to break the dominance of the current for-profit energy model. The market power of the established players is simply too great for that. Only the state has the capacities, resources and potentially democratic legitimacy to regain control of the energy sector on behalf of and for the benefit of society as a whole. 

If we really want to democratize the energy sector in the service of social and ecological objectives, then public energy companies will have to play a major part. This does not have to be at the expense of energy cooperatives, as is sometimes incorrectly claimed. I am convinced that energy cooperatives in a public-driven model of energy democracy will actually have more opportunities to unleash their potential. But in order for that to happen, we must dare to question the liberalization of the energy sector. 

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