Thursday, March 5, 2009

Solar v. Labor: Issue Heats Up Again


The battle for Green Jobs is heating up since passage of the stimulus package. The question is whether to use union labor or less expensive non-union labor for installing solar projects. It is not a new issue to the solar industry and American industry in general.

Read this article for a classic example on the subject going on now in Nevada:

The crux of the matter is whether in employ standard union labor, at hourly wages that can actually provide a worker and his family a decent living OR to use cheaper labor trained mostly on the job thus reducing installation costs. There is plentiful labor in the latter category in the Southwest and even more so now with so many out of work.

It has been this blogger's experience that while union workers are well-trained in solar, the quality of their worker is not appreciably better than their non-union counterparts. This then begs the question: Why pay more for union labor if the cost is not necessarily justified?

I grew up in a union family and I remember my father's involvement with getting basic employment benefits like paid vacations and some sick leave (which he used only once that I know of). It was the American union movement that raised work standards and wages not only for union members but for all industry and government employees.

On the other hand, I am a solar power advocate. It would be great if everyone in solar made a good living and many are. However, the major component of any PV system is the panels and it is hard for the production from them to compete with coal, natural gas and nuclear power even with government incentives. The logical answer is to install more and more solar electric systems which requires more and more panels--and other components--to be manufactured which will bring the cost per watt down. The goal is to have solar competitive with coal- and natural gas-produced electricity by about 2016.

With proven solar technology and the need to ween this country from fossil fuels, the labor issue must find a compromise, at least for the short term. It is such a compromise being used here in California.


1 comment:

  1. Not to worry...Something wonderful is about to happen to solar pv. A install of 3.5 kw will take about 3 hours. The solar generator will come in a 6 x 6 x 5 structure (box) if you will and you will be able to pay non-union and union alike, top wages to install it. 2 to 3 systems a crew, a day. NEXT

    Green Earl,Founder
    American Energy Conservation Group



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