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July 2023

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Stretched out nearly a mile into the heat and haze of the Southern California desert is Desert Peak Energy Storage. On the site are 459 identical shipping containers stacked floor to ceiling with lithium-ion batteries, enough to provide power to more than 265,000 homes for up to four hours.

John Bzdawka, the Sixth District Business Development international representative, was walking the sandy grounds there recently with four business development colleagues and Ninth District International Representative Micah Mitrosky at the invitation of the contractor, Cupertino Electric, one of the IBEW's largest signatories.

Cupertino wanted the team there in person to see it, and therefore see the future. Storage used to be the cherry on top, the nice thing to have wherever renewables were cheapest and most efficient, like Southern California. No more. Grid-scale storage is ready for its close-up, and it's coming everywhere.

This 400-megawatt project, built by Riverside Local 440, will be the largest battery storage facility in the country, replacing the Crimson Energy Storage project, also built by 440, which claimed the record at 350 MW when it opened in October.

Nearly all of the 5,000 MW of installed grid-scale storage in the U.S. can be found in Local 440's jurisdiction or that of its neighbors, San Bernardino Local 477, Bakersfield Local 428, Fresno Local 100 and San Diego Local 569.

"This Southern California land is the perfect place for storage because it is close to load — power demand — and plenty of sun and wind and land to site it," Bzdawka said. "But projects in other places that were not viable even just a year ago now look like no-brainers. States are demanding it, and the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are helping it. This work is coming. It's ours if we can man it."

The impact storage can have on IBEW jobs can't be overstated, said Local 440 Business Manager Jim Rush.

Over the last two years, the local has worked on six projects larger than 100 megawatts. Two more are breaking ground this year, including a 640-megawatt project that will be the next record holder when it opens, Rush said.

Primarily in response to the growth in renewable generation, Southern California locals have added well over a thousand new members over the last decade. Local 440 alone has doubled to 1,400 members. And, Mitrosky said, many clean energy projects will combine generation and storage, increasing labor demand for each new project.

"This is a global transformation, not just a California one. Rapid technological changes are driving investment and federal law is driving it toward unions," she said. "If you look at it comprehensively, at generation and transmission, border to border, how many new members do we need to deliver on this? Double? Triple? When have we ever had a conversation like we are having today?"

The IBEW's Work

More than 135 members of Local 440 worked on the $500 million project. Like many projects last year, it was delayed, and the nine-month timeline was ultimately crammed into six, with one shift turning into two.

"This is the largest-capacity project built in a single phase," said site superintendent Jimmy Sauer. "It'll carry that torch for a few more months."

This is Sauer's eighth storage project over 100 MW and third over 300 MW, he said, and he has noticed a change in the work over the years.

"The first projects were very labor-intensive because we had to stack the batteries ourselves. Now they come stacked in containers," he said.

But total man-hours haven't changed dramatically because the size of the projects keeps growing.

There were other crafts, the operators and laborers, but, Rush said, even though most of the work is underground, the vast majority is the IBEW's.

"Easily 90% is our work: running underground conduit, pulling wire, running optical cable for data and controls, building the substation, and installing the DC feeders. It's not up for conversation," Rush said. "There's more work for us in the storage than in the straight solar installation."

Storage is so essential because of an innate challenge of renewable generation: The sun sets every day at an inconvenient time.

As renewable production flags, most people are getting home. Air conditioners blast. More and more electric vehicles fresh from their evening commute will be plugged in. Screens come on, and so do dishwashers and water heaters.

Daylight-driven cheap power and peak demand pass each other like two shifts in a factory. Meeting demand will only get more challenging as renewables take over more generation from always-on but carbon-intensive generation like coal and natural gas.

California required the two main utilities, PG&E in the north and SoCal Edison in the south, to procure thousands of megawatts of storage in the last half decade, driving demand.

Bzdawka said this combination the tax incentives, utility mandates, technical grid demands and load shifting is no longer unique to California.

"They brought us there because they are going to be building this everywhere," he said. "Indiana and the Mojave Desert don't have a lot in common yet. But that's about to change."

Storage Everywhere

Two long-term and stable trends are driving the push for grid-scale storage. First is the advantage that electrifying everything has in the push to decarbonize the economy. Second is the 90% drop in the cost of lithium-ion batteries per kilowatt-hour over the last 20 years.

For the better part of a generation, these climate-driven goals conflicted with creating the union blue-collar jobs that built the American middle class a century ago.

But legislative victories at the federal level over the last two years have changed that calculus. Labor and apprenticeship standards and Davis-Bacon prevailing wages are baked into the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act — the trillion-dollar bullets aimed at the heart of carbon emissions.

The IRA includes language that finally treats storage like solar and wind, and that ramps up support. All three, plus many other clean energy technologies, receive a base 5% investment tax credit, which gets boosted to 30% if developers follow minimal labor standards on apprenticeships and prevailing wages.

Building in low-income areas, on tribal lands, or in areas where a coal mine or plant recently shuttered adds an additional 10% tax credit.

"There are enormous benefits for developers and contractors that use workers that look exactly like IBEW members, because we wrote the law," said Government Affairs Director Danielle Eckert. "We were asked to write them by the president himself, and after we wrote them, he did what no president in generations did: He got them passed."

The result will be a decades-long wave of energy storage jobs.

The IRA alone will drive between 30,000 MW and 65,000 MW of energy storage built from 2022 to 2030, according to a recent report from BloombergNEF.

There already are $150 billion in clean energy investments announced since the IRA was signed in September 2022, according to research from American Clean Power, and a huge portion of that work will be done by IBEW members.

But there are other drivers of demand. To meet the state's carbon neutrality mandate by 2045, the California Energy Commission will need to add 48,000 MW of energy storage.

To put that in perspective, the total installed storage in the entire country in 2022 was just over 9,000 MW.

In the next decade, it might not be California wearing the heavyweight belt. BloombergNEF predicts that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas will add 8,900 MW of storage by 2030.

Form Energy announced a $760 million storage project in December slated for construction in Weirton, W.Va., a former steel town west of Pittsburgh, though the capacity has not been announced and the company has been cagey about whether it will sign a project labor agreement to get the tax credit, said Steubenville, Ohio, Local 246 Business Manager Eric Nutter.

Not every storage project is a goliath that can power a small city. But for communities bearing a heavy burden for the transition to clean energy, smaller projects like Talen Energy's 20-MW storage system inside the fence of a coal powerhouse in Baltimore could be crucial to maintaining a stable electrical workforce.

The Midwest and the East Coast grids, historically heavily reliant on coal, will add at least 1,700 MW and 2,100 MW of storage, respectively.

"The beautiful thing for us is it doesn't matter why you need storage or the blend of 27 herbs and spices inside the battery. If the developers want the 26% bonus tax credit, they will have to meet the prevailing wage and apprentice requirements we wrote," Bzdawka said. "The easiest way to kill both those birds is with the single stone of a PLA with us."



The Desert Peak project in California will be the largest battery facility in the country. Similar projects are on the way across the county. "This work is coming," said John Bzdawka, Business Development international representative for the Sixth District.



Since the Inflation Reduction Act was signed in 2022, there has been $150 billion worth of clean energy investments, according to American Clean Power research.


A combination of tax incentives, utility mandates and power grid demands means projects like Desert Peak Energy Storage, where the vast majority of the work is the IBEW's, will pop up across North America.

All photos courtesy of Cupertino Electric

The Next Wave of Energy Jobs

Since August 2022, 46 new clean energy manufacturing facilities have been announced, including new facilities and expansions or reopenings of existing facilities. Announcements span the wind, solar, and battery storage supply chains, bringing good jobs to the U.S.


Source: Biden administration