Business managers from more than two dozen IBEW locals in Ohio joined officials from 20 solar companies, six nonprofits, the Port of Cleveland and the city of Columbus at Local 683’s Electrical Trades Center in September to help these renewable energy stakeholders get a better sense of how seriously the union takes its role in their success.
“Our construction locals in Ohio have been doing an amazing job of capturing renewable energy installation and maintenance work all over the state,” said Fourth District International Vice President Gina Cooper, whose district includes Ohio. “But with so much more solar work still to be captured, this tour was a great opportunity to show how the IBEW’s highly trained workforce can be instrumental in gaining access to that work.”
The IBEW has helped foster the explosive growth of Ohio’s solar energy generation industry, noted Aaron Brown, the Fourth District’s international representative for renewable energy and government affairs.
“The tour gave us a chance to hype how we’re supporting solar work and the jobs it creates,” Brown said.
Through 2022, almost 1,400 megawatts of power generation in Ohio was coming from solar, enough to power about 176,000 homes. So far, the IBEW has captured about 70% of the state’s solar construction and maintenance work, and solar generation in the state is expected to jump to nearly 7,800 MW over the next five years.
“A lot of that has to do with engagement, business managers getting in front of this demand,” he said. “We’ve been pretty successful.”
Brown told tour participants that the IBEW fully supports the recent application by Ohio and eight other states for a share of a $250 million Solar for All grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.
The $27 billion fund was created by a provision of the Biden administration’s 2022 Inflation Reduction Act and intends to spur private investment in renewable energy alternatives across the U.S. The $7 billion set aside for Solar for All is geared toward lowering clean energy costs and revitalizing historically underserved communities.
Ohio officials hope to use the grant to pay for residential rooftop solar construction in low- to moderate-income areas of Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton. And because such work would be federally funded, Brown noted, the IRA’s prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements would fully apply.
Applicants should receive an answer to their applications in March, but Cooper is calling on the IBEW locals that cover those cities to start preparing now to bid for the work.
Also taking part in the tour were state Rep. Dick Stein, chairman of the Ohio House of Representatives’ Public Utilities Committee, along with committee members James Hoops and Sharon Ray. Hoops and Ray are sponsoring H.B. 197, a measure supported by the IBEW that calls for expanding Ohio’s utility laws to allow for community solar power.
A recent study by Ohio University concluded that community solar could generate at least $5 billion for the state’s economy. That could mean hundreds more job opportunities for IBEW members. Community solar also can be good for customers, especially those in traditionally underserved communities, by giving them access to centralized and affordable solar generation while providing them with signup benefits and incentives such as billing credits.
On Sept. 20, Brown testified at a Public Utilities Committee hearing in support of H.B. 197. “The economic opportunity to partner with community groups and career centers to grow our membership ranks and provide them with a path to a decent living with great pay and benefits is critical to our communities and the great state of Ohio,” he said, adding that about 800 IBEW members are already working on solar in the state.
Other IBEW representatives who spoke at the hearing were Portsmouth Local 575 Business Manager Dan Shirey, who also represents the Third District on the International Executive Council; Canton Local 540 Executive Board members Greg Bambanek and Ron Berard; Newark Local 1105 Business Development Liaison Ashley Labaki; and Glenn Giffin, business manager of Wheeling, W.Va., Local 141, which has jurisdiction in Belmont County, Ohio.