Unions Looking Green

Unions Looking Green

Yesterday I blogged about how unions are reacting to workers who consistently vote against their own best interests. Today’s look is at how they are reacting to the future.

I’m not sure what “FRESC” is short for, but it is a coalition between labor and the environmental community. FRESC convened a coalition to raise renewable energy standards in Colorado. Okay, so the “RES” in FRESC must mean “renewable energy standards” and the “C” must mean Colorado. I’m still clueless about the “F,” but this organization deserves an “A.”

They are claiming responsibility for getting legislation passed in 2010 that increases the renewable energy standard to 30%. Environmental groups had worked for at least 10 years trying to move Colorado toward cleaner energy.

Recognizing that green energy also meant good green jobs, and healthy communities, labor joined forces with the environmental community to build a broad coalition.

There are some unlikely partners in FRESC, which bills itself as a “blue-green” coalition: Environment Colorado, Colorado AFL-CIO, Colorado Environmental Coalition, IBEW, Colorado Conservation Voters, Sun Edison, Colorado Building Construction Trades Council, Interwest Energy Alliance, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Solar Alliance, and the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. They worked with Colorado’s Governor and Xcel Energy to create a policy that promotes both clean energy and workplace standards.

According to a FRESC brochure, during the five year period between 2005 and 2010, employment in Colorado’s clean-tech industry increased 32.7%, while the national increase was only 10%. In 2010, the only growth sector in the state was clean-tech, which had increased to 1,600 companies which employed 19,000 workers.

I was running for office in 2010, so I met with representatives at Xcel Energy to understand how the requirement to produce at least 30% of its energy from renewable sources was impacting the utility giant. They said that it was easy, and they were proud of leading the nation in their movement toward cleaner energy.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that there was another component to House Bill 1001, which Bill Ritter signed into law. Labor is proud that clean energy jobs will be good jobs thanks to provisions in the bill. It requires that solar installation projects include certified solar installers and an on-site project supervisor who holds certification. Certification is through a test that is administered by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. Community colleges and union apprentice programs are designed to prepare workers to pass the test.

The law also requires the PUC to consider job quality and community impact, in addition to environmental impact and public health, when reviewing proposals to build new energy plants. The bill instructs the PUC to consider long-term career opportunities, health care and pension benefits, and wages as part of the approval process. This changes the dynamic from projects with the least cost being approved to projects with the highest probability of creating good middle class jobs in local communities.

It looks to me that this “blue-green” coalition is a winner that deserves an “A” and one that we should be glad exists as their future policy work extends beyond the Front Range into our part of the state.



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