There’s a problem with Biden’s climate agenda: There aren’t enough workers

Jan 11 (Reuters) – U.S. clean energy companies are offering better wages and benefits, flying in trainers from abroad and mulling ideas such as buying roofing and electrical repair shops to hire only their own workers, as firms risk derailment. they are trying to eliminate the deficiency. President Joe Biden’s climate change agenda.

The Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law last year, includes about $370 billion in solar, wind and electric vehicle subsidies, according to the White House. Starting January 1, American consumers can take advantage of these tax breaks to upgrade their home heating systems or install solar panels on their roofs. According to an analysis by BW Research commissioned by The Nature Conservancy, these investments will create about 537,000 jobs a year over ten years.

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But with the U.S. unemployment rate at a historic low of 3.5%, companies say they fear they will struggle to fill those jobs and plans to divest from fossil fuels could stall. Despite layoff announcements and signs of a slowdown elsewhere in the economy, the job market for clean energy jobs remains tight.

“It feels like a huge risk to expand. Where are we going to find all the people?” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association trade group.

The shortage is expected to hit especially hard in electric vehicle and battery manufacturing, solar panel and home efficiency equipment, forcing some companies to take bold new approaches to finding workers.

Korea’s SK Innovation Co Ltd, which makes batteries for Ford Motor Co’s ( FN ) F-150 Lightning all-electric truck, has increased wages and benefits in Commerce, Georgia, as it expands its US workforce from 4,000 to 20,000 by 2025. today.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a battery maker earns between $20 and $34 an hour, which is higher than Georgia’s average hourly wage of $18.43. It also covers 100% of life insurance costs and contributes up to 6.5% to the retirement plan, which is more than the national average of 5.6%, according to the Plan Sponsor Council of America. And the company provides free meals at work.

“Georgia’s talent pool is not really big. But we are trying to improve some of our policies to better source and retain workers,” said a SK official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

Georgia officials said SK’s hiring was a success, given how quickly production needed to ramp up to meet the company’s commitments to automakers.

While national residential solar installer SunPower Corp ( SPWR.O ) has been aggressively hiring, Chief Executive Peter Farici said the company is also looking at what he called “crazy ideas” to secure its workforce, including buying companies just for its employees.

“I’m not suggesting we do that, but I want to give you an idea of ​​the magnitude of what we’re thinking. Like, should we buy a roofing company and make them all solar installers? Do we buy an electric company? and you buy 100 electric?” he said.

SunPower also held talks with panel maker First Solar Inc ( FSLR.O ) last year to create an easier-to-install solar panel that would allow crews to power two homes a day instead of one, Faricy said.

SunPower rival Sunrun Inc ( RUN.O ) deploys drones to survey roofs before installation, which reduces the number of workers required to scale roofs. It also rewards top crews with office parties.

“When you can make the experience for the employee the best it can be … it makes the industry more fun, more engaging,” Chris McClellan, Sunrun’s senior vice president of operations, said in an interview.

Offshore wind producer Orsted ( ORSTED.CO ), a Danish company that plans to build projects off the East Coast, is hoping to attract workers from projects in the United Kingdom and Asia to help train staff. New York and Massachusetts face large offshore wind workforce gaps, state reports show.

“We are creating a kind of ecosystem where we don’t just have our offshore wind academy, we really train the trainers of the future,” Orsted CEO Mads Nipper told Reuters.

The Biden Administration has repeatedly promised that new green energy jobs will be good-paying union jobs.

According to a 2021 study by BW Research, many of these jobs have overtaken the fossil fuel industry in terms of wages as clean energy companies try to contain costs to compete with established industries. The IRA seeks to address this by tying prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements to subsidies.

These provisions — and problems with hiring — have pressured some employers to use union workers.

Learning from previous hiring problems in Europe and Asia, Orsted signed an agreement with the Construction Union of North America to ensure worker safety.

Even Inc ( AMZN.O ), embroiled in disputes with workers trying to organize, used union labor to build charging infrastructure for its fleet of electric delivery vehicles in Maspeth, Queens, NY.

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.

Corrine Case, an electrician represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said she was paid $43 an hour to install a charging system at Amazon.

Case, a single mother, said she’s excited about the job security offered by the growing demand for electricians to install charging stations.

“Our field is constantly changing with new energy sources, and it’s amazing to be a part of it,” he said.


In search of workers, solar, wind and electric car companies have expanded programs that offer free and subsidized training to military veterans, women and the formerly incarcerated.

SK told Reuters that it recruits at military job fairs and American Legion chapters and partners with programs such as the Georgia National Guard’s Work for Warriors and the Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes Raise America.

Some solar companies have tried to hire veterans, saying the skills learned in the military are good for the industry.

Utility-scale solar power producer SOLV Energy, SunPower and Nextracker teamed up with nonprofit Solar Energy International last year to fund a women-only training program for solar installers. More than 30 women participated in the week-long course in Colorado.

In October, the nonprofit Solar Hands-On Instructional Network of Excellence (SHINE) teamed up with the Virginia Department of Corrections on a pilot program to train 30 prison inmates and recently incarcerated people on how to install solar panels. SHINE director David Peterson said the group is discussing expanding the program.

In California, the nonprofit Grid Alternatives has trained 150 inmates in the Madera County Jail since 2017 to install solar energy and is expanding its program to other facilities in the state this year. Tom Esqueda, the nonprofit’s outreach manager, said potential employers are more open to hiring ex-prisoners when they see them receiving some training.

Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit that rehabilitates ex-gang members in Los Angeles, is using potential job opportunities for solar panel installers to help recruits for a state-funded job program. “Homeboy” company trains 50-60 people a year as installers of solar panels.

According to Jackie Harper, who oversees the program, more than 80% of people trained in the past year have found jobs in solar energy.

“I’m going to stick with it,” said Marco Reyes, 28, who went through the program after his release from prison in February and earns $23 an hour as an installer in Valencia, Calif.

Now he plans to train at the electrical end of a solar installation, which will increase his salary.

“Everyone has a chance to move up the ladder to a better position,” he said. “This job is life-changing for me.”

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Reporting by Nichola Groom and Valerie Volcovici; Edited by Richard Valdmanis and Suzanne Goldenberg

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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