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December 2019

From the Officers
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Building the Grid of the Future

Last month in Washington I joined a group of energy industry leaders from across North America to talk about the future of the electrical grid. It's something I think about every day, and here at the IBEW we work hard to make sure working people's voices are always a part of these important discussions.

The thing is, no one is better positioned to talk about our future energy infrastructure than the men and women who will build it.

Now our outside construction and utility members know firsthand the challenges we're up against, but the truth is that every IBEW member is going to be needed to meet the energy demands of the 21st century.

You all understand more than most that the way we generate electricity is changing. Cheap natural gas is wreaking havoc on coal and nuclear. And the rise of renewables like wind, solar and hydro are changing the ways we distribute power.

For some of our members, these changes have been hard. And that's why we continue to argue that baseload generation — especially the type of generating stations whose middle-class jobs support entire communities — must continue to be a critical part of our energy mix.

But the changes are also presenting opportunities. Abundant hydro, wind and solar power is rarely located in the communities that need that energy, so long-distance transmission projects are demanding increasing numbers of our outside construction members. Whether it's moving wind power from the Midwest, solar from the Desert Southwest, geothermal from the Rocky Mountains or hydro power from Canada, IBEW members will lead the way.

Those projects also demand more from your leaders. District and local leaders are involved from the very beginning of these massive projects, working with companies to sign PLAs and guarantee that new transmission is IBEW-built, and then coordinating with state, provincial and federal officials and regulatory bodies throughout the complicated approval processes.

A study I saw recently forecasts an increase in transmission investment from $7 to 10 billion per year in the upcoming decade to as much as $40 billion per year between 2030 and 2050. That's tens of thousands of jobs, and we're going to put IBEW members in the best position to make sure they're good union jobs, done by the best-trained electrical tradesmen and women in North America.

That means organizing, and I'm proud of the effort and resources we're putting into outside construction organizing. It also means that if you know young people looking for direction and a path to the middle class, you should be pointing them to or to one of our local unions.

I've never felt more optimistic about the future of this brotherhood, and it's because of you, sisters and brothers. Together, we're going to make sure North America's energy future is IBEW-built.


Also: Cooper: Message Sent Read Cooper's Column

Lonnie R. Stephenson

Lonnie R. Stephenson
International President