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Solar issues

Posted: May 29, 2010 11:21 p.m.
Updated: May 30, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

As the Castaic Lake Water Agency and dozens of other municipalities around California begin planning to roll out thousands of acres of solar panels, a little reality check might be warranted.

As the executive director of a statewide association of public works building contractors, I have had the opportunity to examine up close the phenomenon of municipal solar power. As with many new and innovative ideas, there are some hitches that need to be worked out.

First is the issue of where solar panels come from. Nearly all municipal-sized solar panels are produced outside of the U.S., mainly in China. Shipping Chinese-made solar panels overseas contributes to the cost and depletes the "green" aspect of the technology.

Furthermore, Chinese manufacturing workers make pennies per day and are subjected to some of the harshest working conditions of all of the emerging civilized countries. If at all possible, only domestic (or at least North American) manufacturers should be supplying these panels to the CLWA.

An even bigger problem lurks right around the corner.

Many municipalities that have already set out to install solar panels have quickly come to learn that the state's prevailing wage and apprenticeship laws create a bit of a difficult environment for the installation of such panels.

California labor law requires the use of state-certified apprentices on public-works projects, but no such programs exist outside of the few that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) have established.

This means non-union solar installers could not, according to state law, bid on this project. That is unfair and as a candidate for Castaic Lake Water Agency, I'll oppose a union-only bidding process.

I support growth of the solar power industry. It is only through use of these technologies that better materials and systems can be developed.

There might not be a whole lot of savings for ratepayers today, but that does not mean that in future decades the technology won't mature and costs come down to the level where we could blanket the deserts of California in solar panels and never have to worry about access to electric power ever again.

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