A threat to California’s solar future and diverse employment pathways

A new ruling creates barriers to entering the clean energy workforce

By Melissa Brewster, Jeanine Cotter and Pamela Quan

Special to The Examiner

For over 40 years, licensed solar specialty contractors like us have safely installed solar paired battery energy storage systems in San Francisco. But that is about to change.

On July 27, the Contractors State License Board ruled that effective Nov. 1 only licensed electricians can do the installations. Although the Contractors State License Board — urged by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the National Electrical Contractors Association and the Western Electrical Contractors Association — said the change is necessary for safety, the CSLB has not found safety concerns with our installations.

California law requires contractors who install solar paired battery energy storage systems to provide a 10-year labor warranty. That makes sense. The CSLB’s mission is to protect consumers by regulating the construction industry through policies that promote the health, safety and general welfare of the public.

Yet the CSLB’s prohibition of licensed solar installers will end up harming consumers and solar contractors. In addition, the CSLB ruling circumvented proper regulatory procedures, which would have required rigorous review of changes that impact consumers and California’s thousands of solar installers.

If this ruling stands, solar contractors that have systems under warranty will be prohibited from maintaining their work. For consumers wanting solar paired storage, the ruling will make it more difficult to find experienced contractors and will increase costs.

Solar paired battery installation is multi-craft. It incorporates aspects of many types of construction work: carpentry, metal work, roofing, trenching and electrical work. A certified electrician’s education is formidable and broad, but is not tailored to solar or solar paired battery installation. For the past 40 years, specialty solar contractors, and a few certified electricians who specialize in solar, have been dedicated to this craft and have built the rooftop solar industry. Meanwhile, California has experienced a shortage of qualified skilled construction workers as well as an acute shortage of certified electricians who work for electrical contractors.

We are very concerned that the CLSB ruling will cripple California’s ability to meet its clean energy goals and thwart the City and County of San Francisco from achieving 100% clean energy through increased solar and other means by 2025.

The California Solar and Storage Association, which represents our company Luminalt, along with 680 other solar businesses, filed a lawsuit Sept. 17 with the San Francisco Superior Court, challenging the CSLB’s ruling. The CSLB has time to reverse its decision before the Nov. 1 deadline, avoiding expensive litigation and harm to solar businesses and their workers. The CSLB should consider our story.

In 2008, San Francisco launched GoSolarSF’s workforce development program. GoSolarSF created a pathway to jobs with companies installing solar in The City. As a result, community-based organizations working with diverse communities invested in training programs on the basics of solar construction. This sparked an interest in individuals who might never have considered a career in solar or construction.

GoSolarSF drove a significant increase in solar installations in San Francisco, supporting the growth of solar contractors and attracting other clean energy companies, making The City the clean energy innovation leader it is today. Now, San Francisco is home to nearly 10,000 solar installations and hundreds of solar paired battery energy storage systems.

The program transformed Luminalt, a majority women-owned company founded in a garage in the Outer Sunset, while transforming the lives of individuals it recruited through the GoSolarSF program. Melissa, a formerly incarcerated mother who was hired in 2010, is now a co-owner. She oversees the crews that build our systems and the service department that maintains them. Pam, who was hired as a solar trainee and worked full-time by day and studied evenings at City College, is now a certified electrician. She has installed hundreds of solar and solar paired battery energy storage systems across San Francisco, her hometown.

The CSLB ruling creates barriers for women and men to enter the promising clean energy workforce. It prevents the pathways that made Melissa and Pam’s careers possible. Programs like GoSolarSF introduce women and men who may not have thought of a career in solar to the field, provide on-the-job training and a weekly paycheck with benefits, and invest in individuals who are inspired to invest in themselves.

We represent the next generation of skilled craftspeople building California’s clean energy future. The CSLB ruling must not stand. It harms California workers, consumers and the environment.

Melissa Brewster is co-owner and head of construction and customer operations at Luminalt. Jeanine Cotter is Luminalt’s co-owner, co-founder and president and solar specialty license qualifier. Pamela Quan is California certified electrician and crew lead, also at Luminalt.

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