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August 2019

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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Florida Activists Fight to Fend Off Deregulation Threat

In Florida, IBEW members are mobilizing to help kill a proposed constitutional amendment that aims to deregulate the state's investor-owned electrical utilities — a law that, if implemented, could disrupt the livelihood of thousands of electricians who work and live there.

"Energy deregulation has been proven to be bad policy," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "It's a dangerous idea that drives electricity prices up, reduces service quality and puts highly trained union electricians out of work."

Last year, a political action committee called Citizens for Energy Choices (CEC) gained approval to mount a campaign to place a so-called "energy choice" amendment on Florida's 2020 general election ballot.

"It would dismantle the affordable and reliable current electric grid and industry," said Fifth District International Vice President Brian Thompson, "all to give electric utility market profiteers a chance to gain a financial advantage. Deregulation risks leaving electricity customers without reliable and safe providers."

Proponents of deregulation typically sway skeptics by claiming that customers' ability to shop for low-cost power forces providers to compete by offering better service at lower prices. But deregulated utilities also can more freely boost profits by charging customers higher rates.

Regulated systems must balance their right to make money with infrastructure and customer needs, justifying rate-hike requests before an oversight body.

"Energy rates in Florida already are among the lowest in the nation," said Thompson, whose district includes the Sunshine State. "And we've got years of evidence that deregulation doesn't work."

Because of deregulation, thousands of jobs in the trades and other fields have vanished, with rates going up as infrastructure investments decline. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have some form of deregulation.

"It didn't work in California, and it's not going to work in Florida," said Ed Mobsby, a Fifth District international representative who also serves as the state's political coordinator. In the early 2000s, unregulated energy providers in California, such as Enron, manipulated the electrical grid to drive up prices. Statewide rolling brownouts and blackouts ensued, and IBEW members lost jobs by the hundreds.

In Florida, state law limits ballot summaries to 75 words, so one major challenge Florida's IBEW activists face is revealing what CEC is leaving out of its summary. "It's kind of vague, the way they're describing it," Mobsby said.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody agrees. "This unclear language fails to disclose that the proposed amendment would require enactment of laws prohibiting investor-owned utilities from owning, operating or even leasing any facilities which generate electricity and would prevent investor-owned utilities from competing in a new, electric utility market," wrote Moody, a Republican, in a letter to the Florida Supreme Court.

"A lot of people that traditionally oppose labor and the trades are on board with us on this," said Thompson, noting that Florida's Republican-majority House of Representatives and Senate also have problems with the measure. A brief filed by the state's Chamber of Commerce complains that complexities in the proposed amendment's summary violate current law and could leave voters confused.

The summary also omits how the proposed amendment seeks to eliminate existing storm recovery agreements and resources critical in helping to restore power after hurricanes and other disasters.

Before the amendment proposal can be included on the November 2020 general election ballot, supporters must collect more than 766,000 valid signatures from registered Florida voters by Feb. 1.

"For now, we're trying to keep it off the ballot," Thompson said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but the good news is we're getting started early and we're already out in front of it."

In late June, Florida's Department of Elections showed that CEC was only about 42% of the way toward its signature goal. And even if the initiative makes it onto the ballot, it would still need to receive at least 60% of the state's popular vote before gaining ratification.

"We're hoping we'll have enough information out there to let people make an informed decision before then," Mobsby said. The main task for IBEW activists now, he said, is education and mobilization.

It's worked before. Using nearly identical ballot language, Citizens for Energy Choice tried to mount a similar constitutional campaign in Nevada, and in 2016, 75% of the state's voters favored deregulation. But after the IBEW's on-the-ground educational campaign, two-thirds of the electorate there rejected it last November.

"We can use Nevada as a playbook to come at deregulation with a good grassroots effort in Florida," said Thompson, who has regular conversations with IBEW leaders in that state.

"Our utilities are putting together a game plan, too," he said. If the amendment was to pass, the electricity generation business for Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy and Tampa Electric — all IBEW employers — would disappear.

"We would lose jobs for sure," said Thompson, adding that there also would remain uncertainty regarding power transmission and distribution.

"Electricity is a service, not a commodity that can be bought and sold to satisfy corporate greed," said Stephenson. "We need all hands on deck in Florida to help voters understand this, before this dangerous amendment becomes a hard-to-repeal part of the state's constitution."

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A dangerous deregulation proposal in Florida could put thousands of IBEW jobs at risk.

Credit: FP&L


Clock Ticking on Bill to Preserve Nuclear Jobs in Ohio

Hundreds of IBEW jobs in Ohio could be in serious jeopardy if the state's Legislature fails to pass a bill to keep two nuclear plants open.

"This is not a political issue," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "We need this bill in Ohio because the impact of closing these plants would be catastrophic to the workers and their families and to their friends, neighbors and local communities."

The measure is the Ohio Clean Air Program Bill (House Bill 6), introduced in January by Republicans Jamie Callender and Shane Wilkin. Among the bill's proposals are provisions designed to help support carbon-free baseload energy generation at the state's only two nuclear power stations: FirstEnergy Solutions' Davis-Besse plant outside Toledo, and its sister facility, Perry, near Cleveland.

"Our sisters and brothers work hundreds of thousands of hours a year in these plants, providing the kind of carbon-free grid stability you don't get anywhere else," said Fourth District Vice President Brian Malloy. "Investing such a tiny amount in these plants and these workers will pay off many times over for the state of Ohio."

Davis-Besse was the state's first nuclear power station, a single-reactor facility that started operation in 1977. About 400 IBEW members work there, with Toledo Local 8 providing construction and maintenance workers, along with members represented by Toledo Local 245 doing in-plant work and Toledo Local 1413 covering security workers. Coming online a decade after Davis-Besse, the Perry plant employs members of Painesville, Ohio, Local 673, who perform construction and maintenance work there.

H.B. 6 calls for adding a modest $1 fee to the bill of every FirstEnergy customer in the state beginning in 2020. Most of that money would go toward helping sustain both nuclear plants, which have struggled financially in recent years due to plunging natural gas prices and energy pricing factors that disadvantage baseload generation.

"This is about jobs," said Malloy, who noted that some of the funds raised by H.B. 6 also would benefit Buckeye State IBEW members by supporting job-creating solar energy generation projects, including five planned utility-grade solar farms. One of those is a 400-megawatt American Electric Power facility in Highland County, set to be built in part by members of Portsmouth, Ohio, Local 575.

"This bill has been going back and forth in different versions for years," said Fourth District International Representative Dave Moran, who testified in favor of the current measure during a May 22 state House Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. (The IBEW's Fourth District covers Ohio as well as the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.)

But interest groups for the gas industry like Americans for Prosperity and the American Petroleum Institute have been waging a full-bore battle against H.B. 6 and similar bills for a simple reason, Moran explained: "Allow the nuclear plants to close and gas would basically become the only game in town."

The bill was approved on May 29 by the state's full House of Representatives on a bipartisan 53-43 vote. "It was a big win for the IBEW," Moran said. "But it wasn't the end of it."

Malloy agreed. "If you were to ask me a year ago if we could get a bill passed, I didn't have a lot of hope," he said. "But Local 245 Business Manager Larry Tscherne and Local 1413 Business Manager Brad Goetz never gave up. They kept it on the radar, which in turn kept me and other people focused on the issue.

"All our local unions definitely stepped up and lobbied their representatives. The members never let up. They know what's at stake."

In fact, IBEW activists across Ohio, in coordination with representatives of local and statewide trades councils, for months have made phone calls and attended key legislative hearings, Malloy said.

"We stressed that we are for 'all of the above:' renewables, nuclear, gas," he said. "We also stressed jobs, clean energy, and the devastation to communities if either of those plants close."

In a July 1 statement, FirstEnergy said it was "optimistic about the outcome" of H.B. 6., but without it, the closure threat lingered because the company remained unable to commit funds for Davis-Besse's next scheduled refueling cycle. "Should we receive the long-term certainty that comes with an affirmative vote within this timeframe, we will immediately reevaluate our options," it said.

"If we don't get this bill passed, both plants will close," Moran said — Davis-Besse as early as next year, with Perry following suit in 2021.

As The Electrical Worker went to press, H.B. 6 had been sent to the Ohio Senate's Energy and Public Utilities committee for further consideration. "We have a lot of work left to do," Malloy said.

Moran noted that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has stated that he is in favor of nuclear power and has generally signaled support for H.B. 6.

IBEW activists have been hard at work, pressing representatives from both political parties to support this job-saving bill and urging all of their Buckeye State brothers and sisters to do the same.

"No form letters or petitions, but one-on-one contact with the people that vote for them," Malloy stressed. "It's the personal touch that works."

Moran said that Vice President Malloy had himself personally contacted every local in Ohio. "We asked business managers from every branch of the IBEW to use their relationships with local politicians," he said. "We got a lot of support from every local so far. They are engaged because they know this affects all of us."

Members in Ohio can visit to find out how they can tell their senator to support H.B. 6 as written when it comes up for a vote.


If its Legislature fails to act, Ohio's two nuclear plants, including Davis-Besse, above, could close, wiping out work for hundreds of IBEW members.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user FirstEnergyCorp

IBEW Urges Congress to Get Moving on
Nuclear Waste Storage

A trio of recently introduced bills before the House of Representatives could help unlock meaningful, long-term employment for IBEW members in Nevada — and beyond.

"A critical piece to supporting the future of our nation's nuclear sector, and the tens of thousands of family-supporting jobs that the nuclear industry creates, is opening a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel," Political and Legislative Affairs Director Austin Keyser told a House subcommittee hearing in June. Nearly two decades after the original deadline to open a permanent repository, "ratepayers and workers are still waiting … to safely store over 80,000 metric tons of SNF sitting at 121 sites in 39 states across the country," he said.

Keyser was one of five witnesses called to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, which is considering three bills intended to help finally move forward the longstanding plans to allow Nevada's Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository to accept spent nuclear fuel for permanent storage.

"We believe a permanent repository is necessary to ensure the public's support for the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors that we hope will come online in the near future, including small modular reactors," Keyser said.

In 1982, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act directed the Department of Energy to move spent nuclear fuel from temporary onsite storage facilities at commercial nuclear power plants and store it in a stable and lasting location. The department eventually designated Yucca Mountain, an extinct volcano in the middle of a desert about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, as its preferred site.

Delegates to the IBEW's 35th International Convention in 1996 approved a resolution in support of emission- and carbon-free nuclear energy and called for a national nuclear waste disposal facility. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, scores of Las Vegas Local 357 inside wiremen worked alongside members of other building trades on and in the mountain, performing electrical maintenance on tunneling machines, wiring lights and upgrading fire prevention and alarm systems.

The actual process of transporting and storage of spent fuel that was supposed to begin in early 1998 never got started, however, largely because of opposition from Nevada's governors and residents, fueled largely by persistent myths and fears surrounding the safety of nuclear energy.

"We know that it's safe. We know that IBEW members are in these facilities constantly. The high-water mark for industrial safety is at these facilities," Keyser said. "These are the types of family-sustaining careers that Americans are looking for and policymakers should support."

Nearly 15,000 IBEW members work full time in more than 55 nuclear facilities, providing reliable baseload energy to communities across the U.S., Keyser said. Thousands more rotate through nuclear plants as maintenance and refueling support.

"We are the largest union in the nuclear industry," said Keyser. "We represent most of the workers in nuclear generation. We have IBEW members doing core work, whether it's in the plant operations, in electrical construction and capital improvements, and in the decommissioning of sites."

Introduced in late spring, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act (H.R. 2699) and the Storage and Transportation of Residual and Excess Act (H.R. 3136) are both intended to get the spent fuel storage process moving again. The Spent Fuel Prioritization Act (H.R. 2995), introduced in May, calls for allowing the Department of Energy to begin construction of interim storage facilities in Texas and New Mexico to handle spent fuel from decommissioned reactors. That fuel is currently being kept in what were only meant to be temporary on-site storage facilities, a stopgap strategy that is costing taxpayers and utility customers millions of dollars.

"The opening of interim storage facilities would allow for the redevelopment of shuttered nuclear plants," Keyser said. "Many closed nuclear stations are ideal sites for future development of other forms of electrical generation, including renewables, due to the already existing electrical transmission infrastructure."

If the myriad safety and political considerations surrounding Yucca Mountain can be resolved, hundreds of IBEW electricians could find work installing and maintaining the facility's lighting and alarm systems and as well as on construction of buildings designed to accept canisters containing spent nuclear fuel.

"The IBEW would strongly prefer that Congress take action to open a permanent repository as soon as possible," Keyser said, "but we recognize that providing authorization for interim facilities may be the best first step towards a necessary comprehensive solution."

Representatives from the nuclear industry, the environmental movement, the state of Nevada and the U.S. government also offered testimony.


Political and Legislative Affairs Director Austin Keyser testifies during a U.S. House hearing.