As solar development in Imperial County continues, the local electrical workers’ union reports an exponential growth in membership and an increase in local hires.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569 reported its findings to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
IBEW’s membership has grown more than 900 percent in Imperial County since 2009, when the union opened its electrical training center.
“From the beginning our emphasis has really been to make sure that local people are working on renewable energy projects, really, any project. But we have focused on these clean-energy projects,” said Micah Mitrosky, environmental organizer for the IBEW.
The IBEW’s growth in the county coincides with the board’s push to approve solar projects in recent times, although other renewable energy projects have been approved as well.
But the influx of utility-scale renewable energy projects has raised some eyebrows, particularly among environmentalists who are against developing desert habitat, and some within the agricultural community who dislike project development on agricultural land.
Meanwhile, the board and renewable energy supporters have repeatedly said that renewable energy industries create local jobs while pointing out the Valley’s stubbornly high unemployment rate. Latest unemployment figures show Imperial County has a 24 percent unemployment rate. One of the groups backing renewable energy development has been the IBEW.
Mitrosky said the union has been focusing on local hiring agreements with developers “so that we can have firm commitments in writing.” In the last four years the IBEW has signed nearly 1,000 megawatts in local hiring agreements with solar and geothermal developers.
These local hiring agreements have translated into 693 jobs as of May 30, according to the IBEW. Most hires come from Calexico, followed by El Centro and Brawley. Other workers come from Imperial, Heber and Holtville.
“We have currently, as you know, four utility-scale solar projects that are under construction and we anticipate five additional projects to break ground this year,” she said and noted the workforce of the four projects consists of mostly local hires.
Mt. Signal Solar project, developed by 8minutenergy Renewables, has the lowest number of local hires among the four projects by having 55 percent local labor in its ranks. Mitrosky noted, however, that this project is still ramping up construction work.
Meanwhile, Centinela Solar, Campo Verde and Imperial Solar Energy South are all being built by more than 80 percent local labor, according to the IBEW.
“Not only are these projects putting people to work,” said Mitrosky, “they are increasing over time the amount of certified electricians that you have here in Imperial County that will be available for other types of projects like hospitals, water treatment facilities, geothermal facilities, anything that has an electrical component.”
After the board commended the IBEW and its achievements, Mitrosky said the IBEW is still recruiting through Imperial Valley College, the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program and other workforce entities. She added people interested in applying to projects can visit the IBEW office at 2420 Imperial Business Park Drive.
Staff Writer Alejandro Dávila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are three things that happened in Tuesday meeting:
1 Sidewalk improvements near Heber Junior High School were awarded to Pyramid Construction & Aggregates Inc. The contract is worth some $491,000 and improvements are expected to be ready before the start of the coming school year.
2 Certain electrical service upgrades for the juvenile hall were approved by the board and awarded to Control Systems Engineering. The $209,000 project will be paid by the county’s insurance.
3 A contract agreement worth some $257,000 between the county Behavioral Health Department and the Imperial Valley College was approved by the board. Under this agreement IVC provides counseling services to certain Behavioral Health clients.