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December 2014

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Lessons from the Golden State

The United States has a long way to go before renewable energy sources like solar and wind can realistically replace coal and other carbon-emitting energy sources.

But as we report in this issue, California is giving America a glimpse of how we can get there.

Nationwide, renewables make up less than 5 percent of the energy mix. In the Golden State, it's 15 percent, with half of all the state's solar capacity installed in the last year alone.

This has translated into new jobs for IBEW members — lots of them. San Diego Local 569 has added more than 1,000 new members to its rolls, thanks in large part to the explosion of renewable power projects, while Riverside Local 477 has nearly doubled its membership, with 60 percent of their work coming from solar.

This is a tribute to the skills and expertise of the IBEW, but more than anything, California's booming green power industry shows how well thought out, bipartisan public policy can result in job growth, affordable energy and a balanced energy portfolio that reduces carbon emissions.

In 2002, the state passed an ambitious renewable energy portfolio standard requiring that 20 percent of the state's power come from solar, wind, geothermal or hydropower by 2017.

The law was signed into effect by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. His successor, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, not only upheld the law but helped expand on it, increasing the requirement to 33 percent. He said that renewable standards aren't just good for the environment, they are good for business and jobs as well.

Look at the results. Thousands of new jobs and companies have sprung up, while solar prices continue to fall, benefiting consumers.

There is big gap between both parties on Capitol Hill on a whole host of issues, but energy is one area lawmakers from both sides must find common ground.

We are critical of EPA regulations issued over the summer that would shutter more than 40 gigawatts of coal-generated power by 2020. Climate change is a real issue, but these rules would cost thousands of jobs and threaten grid reliability.

This could have been avoided if Congress had passed a balanced energy plan that invested in renewables and nuclear while setting up a more realistic timeline for the retirement of aged coal plants.

America's energy future can't be decided by regulatory boards or federal judges — we need public policy that balances the needs of the environment and the economy, which can only come from Capitol Hill.

Good jobs and affordable, clean power shouldn't be a Democratic or Republican issue. California shows how it can be done — let's hope the incoming Congress and President Obama will learn from its example.


Also: Hill: Few Silver Linings Read Hill's Column

Salvatore J. Chilia

Salvatore J. Chilia
International Secretary-Treasurer