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renewable energy workers

The Time to Move Off Fossil Fuels is Now

By Wenonah Hauter and Jean Ross - Common Dreams, October 27, 2017

NOTE: The IWW takes no position on legislative acts, except opposing those that increase wage slavery. While this act does not reduce wage slavery, it neither increases it, and the primary reason for posting this article here is the intersectional framing that Food and Water Watch and National Nurses United offer.

More than a month after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, many of the island’s residents still struggle without electricity or clean water. A major humanitarian and health care crisis is rapidly unfolding there, on American soil, with disgracefully inadequate help from our federal government. Meanwhile, unprecedented wildfires have burned in Northern California, where dozens were killed and tens of thousands were rendered homeless. In Texas and Florida, the recovery from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma has only just begun. These are tumultuous, catastrophic times, made much worse by human-induced climate chaos.

Science has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that decades of burning of fossil fuels has already caused significant climate disruption, and that this has led to an increase in the frequency and severity of major natural disasters. If we don’t take aggressive, forward-thinking action now, the storms and floods and fires will get worse and worse. This will mean more homelessness, more water contamination, more food shortages, more refugee diasporas and many more lives lost.

On the front lines of the most recent disasters, for more than a decade, including in Puerto Rico and Texas, hundreds of nurses backed by National Nurses United joined first responders to provide urgent medical care in the face of disasters intensified by climate change and help save lives and assist recovery.

The urgency of our fight is critical. As the planet steadily warms, science indicates we will trigger various climate ‘tipping points,’ causing irreversible new impacts on the planet. Many of these changes will be triggered at global temperature increases below 2°C; we have exceeded 1°C of warming already. In 2010, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated a two-thirds chance of avoiding a 1.5°C rise in temperature if carbon dioxide emissions are kept below 400 gigatons. At the current rate of emission, the planet will blow past that critical threshold in the next five years. There is no time to lose.

Taking Back Power: Public Power as a Vehicle Towards Energy Democracy

By Johanna Bozuwa - The Next System Project, October 17, 2017

“We would line up all of our inhalers in a row on the benches before we would go run, just in case,” recounts Kristen Ethridge; an Indiana resident near some of the most polluting power plants in the country. Asthma rates are so bad from the toxic emissions that many students cannot make it through gym class without their inhalers. Cancer and infant mortality rates in the area are through the roof.

These plants are owned by some of the biggest names in the utility business including groups like Duke Energy and AEP. Gibson Power Plant, the worst of them all, emits 2.9 million pounds of toxic compounds and 16.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gases a year. What’s more, most of the energy generated in these plants is transported out of state, leaving Indiana with all the emissions and very little gain.

Indiana’s power plants provide a window into how our current electrical system works. It is a system dominated by a small number of large powerful companies, called investor-owned utilities. Their centralized fossil fuel plants are at the heart of our aging electricity grid—a core contributor to rapidly-accelerating climate change.

The carbon emissions associated with these power providers are but one symptom of larger systemic issues in the sector. Investor-owned utilities are traditionally profit-oriented corporations whose structures are based on an paradigm of extraction. Following the path of least resistance, they often burden communities who do not have the political or financial capital to object with the impacts of their fossil fuel infrastructure. For example, the NAACP reported in Coal Blooded: Putting Profits before People that residents living within 3 miles of a coal plant were more likely to earn a below average annual income and be a person of color. Similar statistics have been recorded for natural gas infrastructure. Just like in Indiana, living next to such pollution hotspots has instigated widespread health effects like asthma and cancer, hitting residents with high medical bills and more sick days. Discriminatory health care and inflexible work further spiral communities into hardship.

These utilities are in a moment of existential crisis with the rise of renewables, though. Every solar panel installed eats away at their centralized, fossil fuel production—sending utilities and their traditional business model into a proclaimed death spiral. From gas pipelines to coal power plants, their investments are turning into stranded assets. In an attempt to slow the transition they’ve thrown their weight behind campaigns to stymie the growing renewables sector.

In some ways it feels as if they’re doubling down on fossil fuels. The drop in natural gas prices has led many investor-owned utilities to continue to build infrastructure like pipelines, often through nefarious self-deals that their rate-payers have little to no say in. Yet, rate-payers’ electricity bills will rise for projects whose use must be obsolete soon to stay below 1.5 degrees warming.

Ironically, utilities justify their advocacy for fossil fuels as a strategy to ensure affordable rates. For instance, they argue that net-metering policies for renewables increase rates for low income residents, as grid maintenance costs are shifted onto those who don’t have rooftop solar. This analysis has been thoroughly debunked. First, it refuses to acknowledge the true costs of fossil fuels—from health effects to environmental damage. Second, it glazes over the subsidies that prop up fossil fuels and continue to make them cheap, but horrible investments.

Could Trump be About to Kill U.S. Solar Industry Jobs?

By Linda Pentz Gunter - CounterPunch, October 13, 2017

I recently returned from Bavaria (Germany). When I give presentations in the U.S. extolling the virtues of the German Energiewende (energy revolution) I often brag about Bavaria. There, I say, in possibly the most conservative province of Germany, farmers have put solar panels on their barn roofs. There may be no cows in the barn, but they are certainly farming solar energy.

But after driving through Bavaria last month I realized that, all this time, I had been the master of understatement.

Traveling through the U.S. you may spot the occasional house sporting a handful of solar panels on the roof. But Bavarian barn roofs are completely covered in solar panels. So are the farmhouses, the sheds, the schools and other public buildings. There may be tiles on these roofs but you can’t see them. In cloudy Germany, where there is already snow on the mountains and we were wearing our woolly sweaters in mid-September, solar power is everywhere.

For sure there are some strong incentives in Germany — such as the feed-in tariff and grid priority for renewables. Nevertheless, the contrast with the U.S., where a shameful one percent of electricity is generated by solar energy, is striking.

Now, that contrast could be about to become even more stark.

Full Report from an “International Meeting on the Energy Mix and the Commons” – Buenos Aires, Argentina (English)

By admin - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 27, 2017; English translation provided by Daniel Chavez of this original report.

The Energy Mix and the Commons

On 4-5 September 2017, an International Meeting on the Energy Mix and the Commons was held at the ATE National trade union’s main office, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The meeting was framed within a broader process of exchange of knowledge and experiences on climate and energy policies in Argentina, Latin America and the world. The Argentinian State Workers’ Association (Spanish acronym ATE; acronyms will be for Spanish names where applicable) and the Autonomous Argentinean Workers’ Congress (CTA-A) are engaged in international processes towards the construction of regional and global alternatives, in particular the Development Platform of the Americas (PLADA) and the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) initiative. The PLADA platform was conceived within the framework of the Trade Unions Confederation of the Americas (TUCA; CSA in Spanish) as a strategic political proposal centred around four dimensions—political, economic, social and environmental—aiming to contribute to the design and implementation of a regional model for sustainable development. PLADA proposes a gradual reduction in the use of fossil fuels, the universalisation of access to energy services, and the rationalization of those sectors of the economy that pollute the most. TUED, a global network composed of workers’ confederations and trade unions, focuses on democratizing generation, distribution and consumption of energy around the world.

The meeting was organised by ATE and CTA-A, with the support of the Transnational Institute (TNI, a worldwide network of scholar-activists based in the Netherlands) and the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of State Workers (CLATE).

Going Green Means Construction Job Boom in Canada: Report

By Christopher Cheung - The Tyee, August 10, 2017

The construction industry has a big role to play as Canada aims to meet to its commitment to the Paris climate agreement and transition to a greener economy, according to a new report.

“We need that construction workforce to get us to net zero,” said Bob Blakely, the COO of Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU), an alliance of 14 unions.

There hasn’t been much Canadian research on the construction industry’s role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so the CBTU commissioned a study by think tank the Columbia Institute to investigate potential job growth as Canada moves towards a low-carbon economy.

According to the study, Jobs for Tomorrow – Canada’s Building Trades and Net Zero Emissions, a low-carbon economy could create almost four million direct building trades jobs by 2050 – and that’s a conservative estimate. These jobs include boilermakers, electrical workers, insulators, ironworkers and masons.

Why Energy and Transport Unions Are Joining TUED

By staff - Trade Unions Energy Democracy, July 28, 2017

In recent months a number of key unions representing workers in energy and transportation have joined TUED.

At its 5th Congress on May 22nd in Barcelona, the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) Executive Committee voted to join TUED. According to ETF’s General Secretary, Eduardo Chagas,

“TUED takes the same approach to energy as did the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) at its World Congress in 2010.  I was on the climate change committee that helped develop the ‘Reduce, Shift, Improve’ approach to fighting transport-related emissions and pollution. But without controlling the energy sector, it will be impossible to make transport truly low-carbon, healthy, and sustainable. ETF’s joining TUED affirms the ITF’s ‘economy wide approach’ to climate-related concerns.”

The ETF represents more than 3.5 million transport workers from more than 230 transport unions and 41 European countries, in the following sectors: railways, road transport and logistics, maritime transport, inland waterways, civil aviation, ports & docks, tourism and fisheries.

In the US energy sector, Local 11 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) joined TUED in late May 2017.  The Los Angeles based local represents 12,000 workers in the Electrical Construction Industry.

Local 11 sees itself as part of a broader movement  for “social justice, safe jobsites, training, green jobs and opportunity for all.” The IBEW represents more than 700,000 workers, and seeks to organize all workers in the entire electrical industry in the United States and Canada, including all those in public utilities and electrical manufacturing, into local unions. Local 11’s Business Manager Marvin Kropke said the local union’s decision to join TUED came after the 2-day leadership retreat organized by TUED at Local 3 IBEW’s Education and Cultural Center in Long Island. “Local 11 is progressive on energy issues, and the local has been pushing solar by way of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) in the Los Angeles area,” said Kropke. We are doing what we can, but we wanted to connect with others in progressive labor in the US and internationally.”

From Norway, the 37,000 member Electricians and IT workers union EL og IT Forbundet  also joined TUED and sent two national officers to TUED’s first Europe-wide meeting in Geneva in June (report to follow).

The union represents electricians, workers in telecommunications, electrical engineering, hydroelectric power and IT.  According to the union’s president, Jan Olav Andersen:

“Norway’s power system is mainly generated by large hydroelectric dams. Norway both exports and imports power, and there is increasing interdependence between European countries in regards to power exchange. Norway’s export capacity of green hydro-electric power is increasing and can be important in the transition to a less fossil-based energy dependence in Europe. But we follow closely the export of Norwegian hydroelectric power and the increasing centralization following the Commission’s energy packages. The latter can challenge the national sovereignty over the hydro-electric power. This sovereignty has played a crucial role in Norway’s use of national resources in building a green industry for over a century. Another important issue for our union is the Arctic exploration for oil, which can undermine the work for a greener world. We joined TUED in order to be better connected to the Europe-wide and international debates on the future of energy and a just transition to clean energy.”

News Bites from Labor Network for Sustainability

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 7, 2017

San Diego area’s Local 569 Is Helping to Lead the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy

Local 569 has a position in support of a transition to a low-carbon economy. How did it come to take such a stand and what is it doing to promote it? ... read more.

We Have to Have an Eye Toward the Future - LA’s IBEW Local 11 Spearheads a Transition to Clean Energy

Los Angeles IBEW Local Union 11 represents 13,000 Electricians, Communications and Systems Installers, Transportation Systems Journeyman, Civil Service Electricians, Apprentices, Construction Wireman and Construction Electricians. It describes itself as “a movement for social justice, safe jobsites, training, green jobs and opportunity for all.” It has become a pioneer in the transition to a climate-safe, worker-friendly energy system ... read more.

We Knew Big Changes Were Coming to our Industry - Tom Dalzell, Business Manager of IBEW Local 1245

This article is based on an interview with Tom Dalzell, Business Manager of IBEW Local 1245 conducted by Jeremy Brecher. Headquartered in Vacaville in northern California but extending into Nevada, Local 1245 has more than 18,000 members, 12,000 in Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the rest in nearly 100 signatory contractors with labor agreements ... read more.

ecology.iww.org web editor's note: in this last article, Dalzell makes some rather unsubstantiated claims about net metering and distributed renewable energy being a subsidy for the rich; this is, in fact, untrue, and--for the most part--a investor owned utility talking point. LNS acknolwedges this and states that Dalzell's position is his own.

Why Union Workers and Environmentalists Need to Work Together with Smart Protests

By Les Leopold - Alternet, June 21, 2017

As Trump slashes and burns his way through environmental regulations, including the Paris Accord, he continues to bet that political polarization will work in his favor. Not only are his anti-scientific, anti-environmentalist positions firing up some within his base, but those positions are driving a deep wedge within organized labor.  And unbeknownst to many environmental activists, they are being counted on to help drive that wedge even deeper.

Trump already has in his pocket most of the construction trades union leaders whose members are likely to benefit from infrastructure projects – whether fossil fuel pipelines or new airports or ...... paving over the Atlantic. His ballyhooed support of coal extraction  has considerable support from miners and many utility workers as well.

But the real coup will come if Trump can tear apart alliances between the more progressive unions and the environmental community. Trump hopes to neutralize the larger Democratic-leaning unions, including those representing oil refinery workers and other industrial workers.  That includes the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported environmental policies like the federal Clean Air Act and California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, and has a long history of fighting with the oil industry – not just over wages and benefits but also over health, safety and the environment.  

To get from here to there, Trump is hoping that environmental activists will play their part -- that they will become so frustrated by his Neanderthal policies, that activists will stage more and more protests at fossil fuel-related facilities, demanding that they be shut down in order to halt global climate crisis.  

Oil refineries present a target-rich arena for protest. On the West Coast they are near progressive enclaves and big media markets in California and Washington.  Yet many who live in fence line communities would like the refineries gone, fearing for their own health and safety. Most importantly, they are gigantic symbols of the oil plutocracy that has profiteered at the expense of people all over the world.

But from Trump's point of view, nothing could be finer than for thousands of environmentalists to clash at the plant gates with highly paid refinery workers. Such demonstrations, even if peaceful and respectful, set a dangerous trap for environmental progress. Here's why: 

Just Transition and Energy Democracy: a civil service trade union perspective

By staff - Public and Commercial Services Union, June 22, 2017

New PCS pamphlet Just Transition and Energy Democracy : a civil service trade union perspective

We urgently need to transition to a zero carbon economy but this doesn’t have to come at a price for workers and communities. PCS will launch a new pamphlet on just transition and energy democracy at its annual delegate conference on 23 May. The pahmphlet makes the case for a just transition and energy democracy from the perspective of a civil service trade union, based on public ownership and democratic control of energy that provides an opportunity to re-vision and rebuild our public services for people not profit.  

ADC Green Fringe: Energy Democracy: A worker-public partnership for a just transition

Tuesday 23 May, 5.30pm

Brighton Conference Centre: Syndicate 2

Chaired by PCS vice president Kevin McHugh

Speakers:   

Chris Baugh - PCS assistant general secretary 

David Hall – Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU)

Dorothy Grace Guerrero – Global Justice Now 

How the Light Gets In

By H. Patricia Hynes - Portside, May 25, 2017

Every now and then I re-visit these lines of the Canadian poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that cannot ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

In these times of climate change denial, macho military chest-beating, stagnant wages, and soulless extremes of wealth and poverty, light-bearing cracks are all that we have.  They surface in unexpected places.

Take North American Windpower magazine, a monthly shaft of light.  It was first sent to me by a friend who never subscribed to it. When I told her how informative - and realistically hopeful - it was, she turned her non-subscription over to me.

The March 2017 issue carried the story of an oil sands worker in Alberta, Canada, Lliam Hildebrand, who created a national initiative, Iron and Earth, to retrain out-of-work oil sands tradespeople - among them pipefitters, electricians, boilermakers, drillers, and construction laborers - to enter the Canadian renewable technologies workforce, including solar, wind and hydro.  A survey of 1,000 oil sands sector workers revealed that 63% responded that they could transition directly to the renewable energy sector with some training; and 59% reported that they were willing to take a paycut to transition into the renewable sector.  The Canadian wind company, Beothuk Energy Inc., has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Iron and Earth to retrain oil and gas workers for the company's proposed offshore wind farm project, which has the potential to create 40,000 jobs.

Why not a similar US program for unemployed coal industry workers, given that everyone knows - except the President - that the cost of coal generated electricity cannot compete with renewables, and that solar and wind are the biggest job creators in electric power generation.  A team of developers recently proposed to install a large solar farm atop two mountaintop removal sites in the heart of coal country, Pikeville, Kentucky.  Further, they have pledged to hire as many unemployed coal miners as they can.  What more prescient sign of the times than this: in April 2017, the Kentucky Coal Museum installed solar panels on its roof!

In nearby West Virginia, the Coal River Mountain Watch is fighting to save 6,600 acres of their mountain from being blown up for strip mining of coal with a proposal for a 440 Megawatt wind farm.  The windpower would generate electricity for 150,000 homes, remove only 200 acres of hardwood forest, create 200 jobs with 40-50 being permanent and longer lasting than coal jobs, and provide sustainable income for the local economy.

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