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.