Rocky Mountain News
Green day dawning for electrical workers
Alternative energy sparks union's interest
October 19, 2007
Organized labor is seeing green in going green.
As the alternative-energy movement gains momentum here - most new commercial buildings have at least some "green" component - local electricians figure they need new skills to take advantage of the emerging market. Their union has stepped up to provide training.
"We could see the renewable-energy market was going to be a market for the future," said Mary Broderick, an electrician who is coordinating the solar program for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 68.
The IBEW started by installing photovoltaic, or solar, energy systems at its headquarters and training center near Denver Merchandise Mart. Last week, the union erected Denver's first small-scale residential generator in the middle of its parking lot at 5660 Logan St.
IBEW units nationwide have been busy offering hands-on training opportunities aimed at ensuring that union electricians get a share of the growing number of jobs expected to be generated by the green building boom.
"The shift from nonrenewable to renewable energy is unleashing an economic growth pattern that's going to last for a decade or more," said Lee Smith, director of the National Photovoltaic Construction Partnership, the company working with IBEW on its solar-energy projects.
Entrepreneurial members of Denver's IBEW unit have either organized the training or taken steps to adapt their skills for alternative-energy projects.
Boulder resident Richard Roth, a 26-year IBEW veteran and journeyman electrician, has finished the 10-week training program offered by the union.
This month, fellow members helped install a system on his home, as they have at others around the metro area. His next step: starting a company that focuses on installing systems for both homes and businesses.
Roth is no stranger to the alternative-energy movement. He installed solar-powered hot tubs in the foothills west of Boulder in the 1970s. But technology has changed since then, so he opted for formal training.
"We've noticed perhaps that there may be a shortage of what we think are qualified installers," Roth said of the IBEW's interest in providing formalized instruction. "When we see a shortage like that, we try to fill the gap."
Another local electrician said he took the course, in part, so he could install a photovoltaic system on his own house. But, eventually, he expects to get work in the area.
"My gut impression is it's going to get way more active out here in terms of seeing installations done on residential and commercial construction in the next few years," said Mick Velez, an IBEW member who lives in Denver.
Helping to boost interest in both home and business installations are utility rebates and federal tax credits that provide an added incentive to the energy cost savings.
Some observers say labor's move to embrace clean energy has raised its public profile at a time when the overall ranks of unions have been on the decline.
"Organized labor will be at the forefront, and is at the forefront, in the creation of this new economy," said Matt Baker, executive director of Environment Colorado.
The photovoltaic partnership's Smith said the union's effort to promote clean energy has helped to change labor's image.
"It has a 'man bites dog' effect," he said. "When's the last time you thought of the labor union as a leader in environmental matters?"
Solar, wind power training
Denver's union electricians see big potential in joining the green revolution, especially as renewable energy captures the commercial building market's attention. With the help of dues money from its 2,000 members, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 68 has installed green-energy systems at its headquarters and a training center near Denver's Merchandise Mart.
Solar: The local IBEW unit offers a 10-week course on solar installations for journeyman electricians and has added solar to its curriculum for apprentices learning the trade. So far, 35 members have taken the classes. About 400 apprentices, electricians, engineers and inspectors have attended IBEW solar seminars.
Union volunteers installed a system last summer to offset electrical usage and allow for hands-on training.
Wind: Denver got its first 60-foot, small-scale residential wind generator last week when the IBEW erected it on its parking lot.
The generator will offset the union training facility's energy consumption and provide extra training for members who want to pursue renewable-energy jobs.
kelleyj@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5068