By: Garret Bean, Vice President of Development, Land, Permitting and Community Relations
This is the second blog in a two-part series about our relationship with unions and the mutual benefits that our partnerships provide.
Our power offtakers expect the highest-quality projects from sPower. The long-term performance of our assets comes down to the quality of work done at the most basic level. If an electrical connection or tracker system fails, your plant could be down for days or possibly weeks.
We typically use 4 to 5 crafts on solar projects and can exceed 15 on some wind projects. The trades usually include laborers prepping the site, operators grading roads and digging foundations for inverter pads, ironworkers assembling tracker systems and electricians installing solar panels and wiring connections. Part of my role in leading solar development in Southern California involves working with unions where I rely on our trades to deliver the experience, quality and skillset it takes to complete well-built and reliable projects for our customers. We seek out the most qualified union partners because they take pride in their work product and deliver a product that will operate for more than 30 years.
A national labor shortage
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that 89% of U.S. general contractors are experiencing difficulty in finding skilled workers and these shortages make it difficult for 59% of contractors to meet scheduling requirements. Obtaining skilled labor is challenging for many companies, especially when you are going into new regions and trying to find 700 trained workers to build your solar facility.
As our projects ramp up and down, our teams are in constant communication with our local building trades. We can plan, recruit, train and deploy people when needed so sPower can keep each trade moving efficiently and safely through the project.
I remember facing challenges in 2015 due to weather and schedule delays. When the call went out that that we needed 100 more people onsite to complete the project by year’s end, our local electricians ramped up and reallocated resources to bring the project online by December 31 and hit our contractual requirements. This resource allocation and response would not have been possible without sPower’s relationships established years in advance.
A win-win for all
Our partnerships with unions are mutually beneficial. sPower works with unions on recruitment and training programs for electricians, ironworkers, operators and other trades. After learning the fundamentals of their craft, workers come onsite where our team provides additional specific renewable energy training regarding project safety, best practices and new technology. Many of these people continue working and learning with us from project to project, advancing in their careers and sometimes even joining sPower full-time.
sPower prides itself on a workforce that is not only well-trained but also diverse. We work with unions to make sure we uplift disadvantaged communities and ensure that these opportunities, training, and careers are extended to people of color and veterans. Our projects provide a career where the demographics are usually greater than 60% people of color, and where all individuals receive a quality wage and benefits for their family. We value hiring locally and engaging a workforce that is reflective of and beneficial to the local community. The ability to work locally on our projects is also appreciated by our union workers, especially those in low-income areas from which they often have to commute for hours in traffic for jobs closer to cities—limiting time with their families. In Lancaster, California where the unemployment rates at one point exceeded 10% for years, a stronger economy (including 7,000 sPower jobs) helped bring the unemployment rate down to 3% and reduced the need for travel to far-away corners of Los Angeles for work. So far, we have trained more than 3,000 electricians and pumped more than $125 million of wages and benefits into the Antelope Valley.
When we partner with the unions, we ensure we can meet the day-to-day demands of the project while putting our local people to work. Looking back, we’ve changed more lives than I can imagine. We’ve started careers, supported the community and left the world better for the next generation. It’s truly a win-win for all and I’m grateful for the partnership and the renewable energy legacy that we have created with our projects.