Green Economy Transforming California’s Imperial Valley

Across the nation, renewable energy is under attack. From the “earth-is-flat” Tea Party to the shadowy, anti-union American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), climate deniers and corporate interests are determined to label the green economy a failure or pipe dream. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

This week, IBEW Local 569 is celebrating a major milestone putting people to work in California’s expanding clean energy sector right here in Imperial Valley. Imperial is a rural, desert community with a unique mix of solar, wind and baseload geothermal energy that can power thousands of California homes — and it also happens to be in the highest unemployment County in our state.

Right now, over 1,500 IBEW journeymen, apprentices and electrical trainees are working to build four utility-scale solar projects in California’s Imperial Valley, and more than 1,000 of them are from the local community. For many, it is not just the chance to earn a paycheck and excellent benefits like family healthcare and a pension, it is a shot at skilled training and a brand-new career in the electrical trade for the very first time.

Of course, these jobs didn’t happen overnight. It took vision, collaboration and dedication from state and local leaders as well as the labor movement, environmental community and industry. As IBEW Local 569 Business Manager Johnny Simpson notes:

Thanks to Local Hire Agreements, Governor Brown's 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard and the leadership of the County Board of Supervisors and the Imperial Irrigation District, we are putting local people to work in good union jobs and creating a new skilled workforce in Imperial County. We are combating climate change and strengthening our middle-class.

Below are some IBEW member perspectives on what this tremendous clean energy growth means for our region, our state and our planet.

Ramon Valencia, one of our IBEW Local 569 Journeyman Wireman and an Apprenticeship Instructor at the Imperial Electrical Training Center shared:

The Great Recession was devastating for Imperial County and finding work has been tough, especially getting a good job with family healthcare and a pension. Renewable energy has given all of us a brighter future in Imperial Valley and is putting our region on the map as a national leader in this rapidly-growing industry.

And according to Calexico resident and IBEW 569 Construction Wireman William Ellison:

Before the growth of renewable energy here in the Valley, the job options were pretty limited. A lot of people were forced to move to find good work. Now, we have local jobs with excellent healthcare and a pension and the chance to take classes and learn a new career. Plus, we're helping to fight climate change which is a huge concern for a desert community like ours.

Imperial County’s success story goes beyond renewable energy. As our state tackles new challenges from harmful fracking to preserving the legacy of the California Environmental Quality Act, we know now more than ever that the myth that we must choose between good jobs or a clean environment is a false one.