The Electrical Worker online
December 2023

Multibillion-Dollar Blast of Federal Grid Funding Positions IBEW for Major Wins
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The Department of Energy is making the largest direct investment ever in the U.S. grid, and most of the sponsored projects already have built-in partnerships with IBEW locals.

The grants are the first deployment of more than $20 billion committed to grid improvements in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Joe Biden in 2021.

These grants total $3.5 billion, funding projects in 44 states. The projects will expand the grid, as well as harden it against extreme weather and wildfires that are becoming more common due to climate change.

Once the private utilities, rural electrical cooperatives, state power authorities and others add their share, the total value of the 58 funded projects is more than $8.1 billion.

"For years, even before we started the clean energy transition in earnest, the IBEW was almost alone talking about the importance of grid reliability. Thanks to our members' advocacy, there is $8 billion more going into our industry," said Utility Department Director Donnie Colston.

The grants come out of the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships, or GRIP, program run by the Department of Energy.

"Today's announcement represents the largest-ever direct investment in critical grid infrastructure, supporting projects that will harden systems, improve energy reliability and affordability — all while generating union jobs for highly skilled workers," said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.

Among the largest beneficiaries of the grant program are the members of Portland, Ore., Local 125. Two utilities — Portland General Electric and Pacificorp — with Local 125 members received four grants totaling more than $450 million.

The money will support projects worth more than $1 billion, and Local 125 Business Manager Travis Eri said work on these projects will start almost immediately.

"A billion dollars. That's going to impact us," Eri said.

Eri said the utilities all approached Local 125 before applying for the grants. They knew that the Biden appointees administering the grant program would favor union involvement.

"One of the most important things is that the utilities met with us and said there has to be union collaboration on the request. 'We need your help. You need to sign on and send letters so we can get the grant money,'" Eri said. "We acted quickly and confirmed again with the utilities: 'We will be behind you if it is 100% union work. There will be no nonunion contractors.' And they agreed."

The largest single grant is $250 million toward a $630 million partnership between Portland General and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. The project will convert a 100-mile 230-kilovolt transmission line to 500 kv.

When complete, the clean energy produced east of the Cascades on native lands could provide enough power for more than 1.7 million homes in the population centers near the coast.

"The utilities have had many attempts at adding transmission. Finally, one is going to cross the finish line," Eri said. "If we want to electrify everything — and we do — we need this, and now we will get it."

The IBEW was integral in drafting and passing the federal law that funds these programs, said Leroy Chincio, Honolulu Local 1260's business manager and the Seventh District representative on the International Executive Council.

New capacity to integrate increasing renewable energy generation is only one of the grant areas. Billions of dollars were also dedicated to smart grids, grid innovation and wildfire resilience.

Of the 58 projects that were announced, the IBEW found that at least 41 involve IBEW partner organizations. About half of the remaining 17 projects have union partnerships or agreements, according to the federal Grid Deployment Office, which manages GRIP, and every GRIP project is subject to the labor protections and guarantees baked into the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

In early August, a nightmare combination of hot winds, drought and the valleys that define Maui unleashed a horrifying wildfire that destroyed the historic city of Lahaina and killed at least 997 people.

The only GRIP grants not given out in October were nearly $115 million announced during President Joe Biden's visit to Hawaii after the disaster.

The president took one meeting while in Maui, Chincio said — with the IBEW.

"It's going to mean tons and tons of work," Chincio said.

The program won't just harden the grid infrastructure, including new poles, new undergrounding, hardened substation and control center equipment. It also will fund the creation of a new Hawaii-based line apprenticeship program.

"Until now, every certified lineman in the state works for the utility, and when we needed contractors, they came from the mainland," Chincio said. "The utility is limited in how many people they could hire, so this will double the pipeline for new linemen in the state and grow our ranks."

Similar to the utilities seeking out Local 125 in Oregon, Hawaiian Electric and the Hawaii State Energy Office approached Chincio before they applied for the grant.

"They wanted to partner with us in this application because they knew they needed union support and union engagement," Chincio said. They signed a memorandum of agreement that all work on the projects will be done by IBEW members.

"I cannot overstate how important the IBEW is in the money coming in. International President Cooper and Secretary-Treasurer Noble and the whole Government Affairs department having a say in how the legislation was written has been huge," Chincio said. "I cannot overstate that enough. The way the laws are written, the IBEW is set to grow enormously."

After announcing the first round, the Grid Deployment Office held a webinar to offer advice to applicants for the rest of the nearly $7 billion in GRIP projects yet to be awarded.

"The number of applications far outstripped what we have budgeted," said Maria Robinson, the office's director. "The quality of the [labor] part of the plan will be key."

$8.1 billion
Total value of 58 projects
selected for the first round of federal GRIP funding

The portion of those
58 projects that already
have partnerships with
IBEW locals