Workforce Issues and Energy Efficiency Programs: A Plan for California's Utilities

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California has charted an ambitious course for building a clean energy economy, with energy efficiency as a key strategy. The investor-owned utilities (directed by the California Public Utilities Commission) administer the great majority of California's energy efficiency (EE) programs, investing over a billion dollars of ratepayer funds annually in incentives and other programs designed to encourage widespread adoption of energy saving measures.  In May 2014, the UC Berkeley Donald Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy released Workforce Issues and Energy Efficiency Programs: A Plan for California's Utilities, which offers a detailed action plan for the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to develop and engage a qualified workforce with the capacity to achieve the state's energy efficiency targets.

Realizing the potential energy savings from California's ratepayer-funded EE programs requires that participating contractors and workers have the skills they need to ensure that equipment is properly installed, commissioned, and maintained, and that buildings are designed, constructed, and retrofitted consistent with best practices for energy efficiency. The Plan prescribes a set of EE program requirements and strategic training investments that the IOUs can implement to build and support an industry of qualified contractors and workers. The recommendations are a significant departure from the IOUs' current practices, which do not systematically address workforce issues. Evidence suggests that there are widespread work quality problems in some EE programs.

In addition to their primary objective to produce energy savings, the ratepayer-funded EE programs are also a significant source of jobs in the state. California has made an explicit commitment to expand economic opportunity for disadvantaged workers as we transition to a clean economy. The Plan proposes that the IOUs establish a dedicated workforce inclusion program for the specific purpose of expanding access to living wage jobs and rewarding career pathways in EE work.

Overview of Recommendations

  1. Workforce Standards:  The IOUs should incorporate a set of contractor and workforce standards into the program requirements for their EE incentive programs. These requirements can help ensure that ratepayer-subsidized EE measures are properly installed, operated, and maintained, and that the energy savings potential from ratepayer subsidies is fully realized. Such requirements also signal the state's training institutions to develop or update curriculum in order to provide workers with necessary skills.

  2. Skills Building: The IOUs should restructure their workforce education and training (WE&T) investments to move toward greater alignment with California's main training and education institutions—trades apprenticeships, community colleges, and university architecture and engineering programs—in order to incorporate EE-specific skills and knowledge in the broader skills sets of workers in key occupations. We also recommend a dedicated funding stream for job preparation for workers from disadvantaged communities.

  3. Inclusion: The IOUs should create a workforce inclusion program to expand opportunities for workers from disadvantaged communities to enter and advance in rewarding careers related to EE. This program should leverage the IOUs' influence over EE job creation to help broaden access, and to ensure that the jobs generated by ratepayer investment provide living wages and defined pathways for advancement.

In addition to its recommendations for the IOUs, the Plan also presents a blueprint for statewide policy coordination on EE workforce standards, and for incorporating ongoing advice and engagement from the state's leading experts on energy efficiency and workforce development.

Recommendations are described in more detail in the Plan and Summary of Recommendations.