Three unions organize for utility-scale solar projects


The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) includes provisions designed to bolster wages for solar power installers. To qualify for the IRA’s full 30% base tax credit, projects with a grid connection exceeding one megawatt must pay all employees the prevailing wage.

Although prevailing wage rates aren’t equivalent to union wages in most markets, they serve to narrow the wage gap between standard labor rates and union benchmarks.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) have signed a national tri-trade solar agreement. The agreement specifies the roles of each union in utility-scale solar projects across the United States, California excluded.

The IBEW spokesman told pv magazine USA that details about individual tasks each group performs is available via local union contacts. The IUOE will focus on foundational work such as driving piles and ground screws, while LUINA will handle the deployment of racking solutions. The IBEW will handle the final stages of the projects, which includes installing the solar panels as well as completing electrical balance of system work, such as wiring and inverters.

The IBEW spokesperson added that the unions have also ironed out language regarding staffing. If one group lacks the necessary labor force, the other unions will provide the required team members to complete the project.

The unions told pv magazine USA, that when it comes to the pricing of installation services, “We believe that in most cases, not just under the right circumstances, our wage mix under this agreement will beat the pricing of the nonunion sectors.”

Beyond the solar industry, the IRA has extended its benefits to other unionized sectors. The Vineyard Wind project, under construction off the Massachusetts coast, forged a labor agreement with the Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council, committing to employ 500 union members.

Recently, Vineyard Wind faced criticism from the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1413 (ILA) for failing to uphold its promise to hire both Black and local workers. New employment contracts were signed a week after the allegations.

Separate from the IRA’s tax benefits, auto workers successfully negotiated a union contract for a GM-owned battery plant. While the IRA doesn’t directly fund car battery facilities, it does subsidize the vehicles in which these batteries are installed.

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