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The Link Between Good Jobs and a Low Carbon Future

The Link Between Good Jobs  and a Low Carbon Future
Photo by Johnny Swanson

  • Introduction

    On October 7, 2015, California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 350 into law, committing California to increasing its Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 50% and doubling energy efficiency savings by 2030. On stage at the signing were two state labor leaders: Robbie Hunter, President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, and Marvin Kropke, Business Manager of Local 11, the biggest International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) building trades local in the state. A statement issued by the California Building Trades to mark the occasion read:

    The passage of Senate Bill 350 in the closing moments of the 2015 legislative session last week is fantastic news for Building and Construction Trades workers in California. The legislation, strongly supported by the California Building Trades, increases the percentage of California’s energy that must be from renewable sources from 33 to 50 percent over the next 15 years. That creates an immediate demand for the construction of new renewable power plants—solar, wind and geothermal—along with transmission lines to tap into other sources that this bill now mandates must be built under prevailing wage. California’s Building Trades workers will now go to work by the thousands building those plants.

    While there is no shortage of analyses on job creation in the renewable energy industry, there is a lack of research that measures the quality of these jobs and the ability of workers in the clean energy industry to build careers and support their families. Due to its aggressive climate policies and the size of its economy, California, by far, supports the most clean energy jobs of any state in the nation. What has proven more significant than the sheer numbers of jobs, however, is the quality of those jobs. California’s renewable energy has been built primarily by the building trades unions, so the jobs have been good quality jobs—jobs that support skilled workers and compensate them with family-supporting wages and benefits. In return, the State Building Trades have been a powerful political ally for increasingly aggressive policies to address climate change.

    Between 2002 and 2015, 11,234 megawatts (MW)3 of new RPS-compliant generation capacity4 have been built in the state. This paper describes the impacts of this construction, driven by California’s RPS, on statewide blue-collar construction workers. We outline how the RPS has produced a significant number of good quality jobs with family-supporting wages, health and retirement benefits, and career training opportunities across the state of California. The major beneficiaries of the growth in renewable energy generation were workers in very high unemployment, low-income counties, such as Imperial and Kern Counties. The concentration of renewable energy construction in these areas further amplifies the benefits of renewable energy jobs.

    Contrasting the “high-road” strategies developed in California to train, support, and retain workers in the construction industry with outcomes from elsewhere, we illustrate how the RPS provides benefits beyond carbon reduction. In supporting the development of a skilled and productive construction labor force within the state, the RPS has been good not only for workers but also for the California construction industry.

    This paper continues a discussion started in our previous analysis5 of the solar industry in California regarding how the unique regulatory environment of the state solidifies “high-road” workforce practices. SB 1078 established the initial RPS in California in 2002. Senate Bills 107 and X1-2 increased the target. Those bills facilitated the growth in renewable energy jobs documented here, to which SB 350 will continue to contribute. A combination of state policies helps to ensure that these new jobs provide quality careers. Most utility-scale renewable energy installation in California have been governed by collectively-bargained project labor agreements (PLAs), which require prevailing wage rates, benefits (e.g., pension and healthcare contributions), and employer contributions for training.

    In this report, we report employment estimates in “job-years,” equal to 2,080 hours of work. Over the period from 2002 to 2015, we estimate that California’s RPS created 25,500 blue-collar job-years (about 53 million hours of blue-collar construction work) and 7,200 white-collar construction job-years (about 15 million hours of white-collar construction work), almost 90% of which have been created since 2012. Full-time construction workers work about 80% of the 2,080 hours per year (about 1,664 hours), due to seasonality and downtime between construction projects. In addition, one job-year may be spread across multiple construction workers, so we are not capturing the actual head count of workers on renewable projects.

    As a direct consequence of this job creation, we estimate that $46.6 million has been invested in apprenticeship training. This important contribution to workforce education and training of California residents is made jointly by workers and their employers, rather than taxpayers. The apprenticeship system is a self-funded sustainable workforce training model that ensures an ongoing supply of well-trained construction workers with the relevant skills to take on new and challenging work in the state including work associated with the transition to a low-carbon economy (e.g., renewable energy, transmission infrastructure, battery storage, energy efficiency retrofits, electric vehicle charging stations, green buildings, etc.). This private contribution to apprenticeship training translates roughly into a $35,000 investment in classroom training for each of the approximately 1,200 apprentices who graduated over that period due to growth in renewable generation. This investment in classroom training is in addition to the paid on-the-job (worksite) training that apprenticeship also provides.

    The jobs generated between 2002 and 2015 also contributed almost $340 million into blue-collar construction workers’ pension funds and almost $400 million towards health insurance coverage for these workers and their families, both of which are managed jointly by the unions and their employers in Taft-Hartley trust funds. The contributions per worker average $10,650 in pension contributions and $12,500 in health coverage for each worker.

    These tangible gains for construction workers continue to play an important role in building and sustaining California’s distinctive political coalition of building trades unions, environmentalists, community activists, and others supporting California’s RPS policies.

  • Press Release


    California’s Clean Energy Revolution: More Than Just Jobs

    Study finds Renewables Portfolio Standard brings worker training, living wages, good benefits

    July 12, 2016

    Berkeley — California’s leadership on climate policy solutions has brought much attention to the quantity of jobs created in the state’s renewable energy industry. Yet the quality of those jobs has largely remained a mystery, and clean energy jobs aren’t automatically good jobs. A new UC Berkeley report released this morning at a press conference at the IBEW-NECA Sacramento Area Electrical Training Center finds that California’s principal climate policy, the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS), has created good jobs with a career path for non-college bound workers. This is a virtuous cycle: the renewable projects create paid training for workers through state-certified apprenticeship programs, and they help fund the training of future workers through joint employer and employee contributions made for every hour worked.

    The report finds that the RPS has created a “high road” renewable energy industry, which contrasts markedly with “low road” strategies of states such as Texas in which job training is rare, wages are low and benefits often nonexistent.

    What’s more, the high-quality jobs resulting from California’s RPS largely have been created in regions of the state where they are most needed, with high unemployment and low income.

    The report, “The Link Between Good Jobs and a Low Carbon Future,” was published by the Donald Vial Center for Employment in the Green Economy, part of the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

    “What’s unique about California is that the boom in renewables has created quality jobs that lead to real careers,” said Betony Jones, Associate Chair of the Donald Vial Center and a co-author of the report. “These are not just jobs to get by. Workers on these projects are getting health care, pension contributions, and paid comprehensive training that leads to career stability,” she said.

    “This benefit package helps maintain a skilled workforce that benefits not only the construction industry but also the state’s broader economy,” said Dr. Carol Zabin, co-author of the report.

    Senator Kevin de León remarked, “This research offers powerful new evidence of the positive economic impact California’s climate policies are having for blue-collar working families across our state, especially in our most disadvantaged communities. California is poised to build on this success over the coming years with even more ambitious goals for clean energy generation established under Senate Bill 350.”

    Jose Muñoz, a journeyman electrician and father of three from Calexico, has worked on several commercial-scale solar projects, wind farms and energy storage projects in San Diego and Imperial Counties since 2006. “The benefits and training that come with these jobs are the most important things,” he said. “One job site can have about 600 electricians and lot of those are local guys who come from fast food jobs or working in the fields,” said Muñoz. “They have never had benefits for themselves and their families before.”

    Key Findings:
    The report calculated the following effects of California’s RPS from 2002-2015:

    • Creation of 25,500 blue-collar job-years (about 53 million hours of blue-collar construction work), with greatest job gains in counties such as Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial, where unemployment rates are far above the state average and income is far below average.
    • California’s Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley together have seen 65% of these jobs.
    • Almost all the large-scale renewable projects are built under project labor agreements, which provide union pay rates, health insurance and pension programs for all workers, whether or not their employers are union.
    • Utility-scale photovoltaic construction projects have funded 1,700 apprentices, providing them with earn-while-you learn classroom and on-the-job training, and putting them on a pathway to mastery of their trade and a middle-class career.
    • This high-road construction industry not only provides full family health care and retirement benefits, but also is the primary funder of the apprenticeship training system, with the state paying only a portion of the classroom training.
    • In contrast, the renewable energy construction industries in other states such as Texas or Arizona are more commonly non-union, provide lower wages, do not participate in apprenticeships, and lack health care and retirement benefits.

    “The Link Between Good Jobs and a Low Carbon Future” – July 2016

    “Environmental and Economic Benefits of Building Solar in California” – Nov 2014


    Betony Jones, Dona Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy Associate Chair,, (510) 642-0090 (office) or (530) 563-8384 (cell)

    Dr. Carol Zabin, report co-author,, (510) 642-9176 (office) or (510) 409-4593 (cell)

    Jeremy Smith, Deputy Legislative Director, State Building and Construction Trades Council,, (916) 443-3302

  • Opinion: The need to take the high road to a low-carbon economy
    Vancouver Sun | December 5, 2016

    Renewable Energy Jobs on Increase in California
    Yale Climate Connections | November 21, 2016

    Green jobs are good for more than climate: Guest commentary
    Commentary by Robbie Hunter | Inland Valley Daily Bulletin | July 20, 2016

    Green State, Golden State: Clean Energy Policy Creates Good Jobs
    Capital & Main | July 19, 2016

    California’s RPS Generating Thousands of Clean Energy Blue-Collar Jobs
    Sustainable Brands | July 18, 2016

    Proyectos de energía renovable generaron más de 25,500 empleos en California
    La Opinión | July 13, 2016

    Renewable energy programs helping distressed areas of California with quality jobs, study says
    Los Angeles Times | July 12, 2016

    Green energy industry created about 30,000 blue collar jobs in California, study finds
    Sacramento Bee | July 12, 2016

    Informe revela energía renovable generó más de 25.500 empleos en California
    Holaciudad | July 12, 2016

    Assemblymember Garcia Highlights Importance of Coachella and Imperial Valleys in Renewable Energy and the Green Economy
    Imperial Valley News | July 12, 2016

  • Press Conference with Sen. De León: California’s Clean Energy Revolution: More Than Just Jobs

    Report authors debuted their findings at a press conference July 12, 2016, with Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, Jeremy Smith from the State Building and Construction Trades Council, workers and other partners.