The stars of Hollywood shine brightly in Los Angeles, but it is the
city's world-famous sunshine that has catapulted the City of Angels atop
the list of America's most solar-friendly cities.
That's good news for IBEW electricians, who have embraced the solar
boom and its opportunities for steady, abundant work as Southern
California works to harness the sun's energy.
"Our members have played a central role in helping L.A.
rise to the top of U.S. cities embracing solar energy," said
International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "Solar construction
continues to be a huge source of new work for our members in Southern
California and all across North America, and we're proud to be on the
leading edge of the clean energy revolution."
According to a new report from the Environment America
Research and Policy Center, Los Angeles now has the most installed solar
power of any city in U.S. And part of what pushed it to the No. 1 spot
was an IBEW-installed 2.21-megawatt solar installation on the rooftop of
the Los Angeles Convention Center.
|The most powerful solar roof in the U.S. to date was installed by dozens of IBEW Local 11 members atop of a warehouse and distribution center near the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro.
It took about six months for IBEW members, working for
signatory contractor CSI Electric, to affix the array's more than 6,000
panels to the top of the center's South Hall. The center is almost
always in use, so a major challenge was coordinating the installation to
work around the various events taking place inside with minimum
The installation is expected to cover about 17 percent of
the convention center's annual energy needs — about 3.4 million kilowatt
hours per year.
"Every investment we make in solar is an investment in the
health and well-being of Angelenos today and for years to come," said
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in an April press release.
The "Shining Cities 2018" report found that Los Angeles has
349.3 total megawatts of installed solar, enough to power an estimated
The nearby Westmont project, completed last summer near the
Port of Los Angeles, found dozens of IBEW members with signatory
contractor Baker Electric Solar working alongside union roofers and
carpenters to install nearly 50,000 photovoltaic panels atop a cluster
of distribution center warehouses on Westmont Drive in the San Pedro
community. Completed, the array covers an area roughly the size of 50
Westmont produces a daily average of 16.4 megawatts —
enough to power around 5,000 homes — making it the most powerful solar
roof in the world.
IBEW members and officials worked closely with PermaCity Solar to ensure the success of both projects.
"PermaCity is what in the solar industry is called an
integrator. They perform a different role than a traditional contractor
or developer," said Los Angeles Local 11 Business Manager Marvin Kropke.
"They do the marketing, bring together customers, arrange financing,
hire the contractors and manage the project from conception to
The company had been relying on nonunion companies for
solar installations, Kropke said, but that began to change a few years
ago after Local 11 business agents Pat Stewart and Kevin Norton
introduced themselves to CEO Jonathan Port at a building trades
"We told Jonathan about how valuable IBEW's help could be
as his company tries to push projects through the city of Los Angeles,"
"We try to be value-added," Kropke said. "When you look at
getting your project approved, we can turn out 1,500 people to a council
meeting for support. And on projects big and small, IBEW electricians
make sure our signatory contractors deliver top results on time and
PermaCity worked with Local 11 on a couple of pilot
projects first, Norton said. "We developed a really good working
relationship and signed up three or four contractors."
IBEW connected PermaCity with the right companies and the
right contact people, Kropke said. "So, it's not just a one-way
relationship. It's nice to work with people like that."
Port was pleased with IBEW's work on the massive Westmont project in particular.
"I think IBEW did a fantastic job of making sure there was
labor for the job," Port said in an interview with enerG Magazine. "It
was good to have their support."
Priorities aligned when PermaCity chose to put a special
emphasis on hiring military veterans, something Kropke and Local 11 have
focused on for years.
"We're always happy when contractors share our commitment
to America's veterans," said Kropke, an Army veteran who was wounded in
Vietnam. "We get good people who come trained with good work habits."
Local 11 has a public goal of having half of incoming
apprentices each year be former members of the armed forces. The
recruitment effort is not just important to Kropke but also to Local
11's members, who have wholeheartedly embraced the effort.
"There are thousands of veterans coming back from service,"
Port told enerG Magazine, "and there are a lot of people displaced in
the way the American economy is changing. Renewable energy is one of the
larger drivers of jobs making up for that change."
"We try to be good members of our communities, because
after all, our members live here," Kropke said. "We want to be good
neighbors, and we want to make sure we're taking care of the people who
volunteered to protect us around the world."
With assistance from Local 11 and the Los Angeles chapters
of the roofers' and carpenters' unions, more than four dozen veterans
found work on the Westmont project.
The expansion of solar adds much-needed capacity to the
region's electrical grid, but, longer-term, it also will require
substantial upgrades to the region's electrical infrastructure in the
form of batteries and smart sensors to help manage the
sometimes-irregular flow of electricity. Both the build out and grid
retrofits translate into expanded job opportunities for IBEW members.
At present, solar is the fastest-growing power generation
technology. As we reported in December's Electrical Worker, more than
21.5 gigawatts of utility-scale solar generating capacity existed across
the United States in December 2016, a massive 55 percent increase from
the year before.
Job growth has been strong in the renewable energy sector,
too. The U.S. Department of Energy reported a 25 percent increase in the
solar workforce in 2016, and the Solar Foundation reported that more
than a quarter-million people worked in solar industries last year.
"More of that should be IBEW work," Stephenson said. "We
have to continue to organize like hell to make sure IBEW members are
among the beneficiaries of this explosion of solar generation all over
In Los Angeles, the Department of Water and Power reported
that, in 2016, solar was responsible for about 5 percent of the city's
power generation. Natural gas led with 34 percent, and coal and nuclear
accounted for 19 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
Photovoltaic solar panels work best in vast open areas that
get a great deal of sunlight. It helps that Los Angeles averages around
300 sunny days each year, but solar has provided IBEW members with
long-term employment opportunities all over sunny Southern California,
along the coast from Silicon Valley to San Diego and eastward to the
wide open, high desert areas.
"Lots of companies and municipalities are racing to capture
the power of the sun, and to do it right, they will need a workforce
that can build the necessary infrastructure," Stephenson said. "We
continue to advocate for strong, reliable baseload power generation like
carbon-free nuclear and coal and gas, but renewables are an important
part of the mix, and we're committed to be a part of their growth.
"When companies or cities are looking to expand their solar
or wind generation capacity, we know they'll continue to look to
members of the IBEW, who are the best-trained, safest and most
professional electricians in the world."