by Pam Fendt, Wisconsin Examiner
Wisconsin is entering a boom cycle in renewable energy development. From utility-scale solar projects that will replace aging infrastructure to plans for the manufacturing of the needed component parts here, progress is now a question of “when?’”and “how?” instead of ”‘if?”
Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) signed into law by President Joe Biden recently, the answer to ‘how?’ has become clearer: That progress will be made by Wisconsin workers who will be paid family-supporting wages and benefits.
The wave of clean energy development that Wisconsin will see in the next decade will certainly reduce our carbon footprint as a state. Climate activists are correct in lauding this landmark legislation as the most impactful effort to combat climate change in American history.
But it’s so much more than that. This is a jobs bill. A union jobs bill.
The new law ties aggressive financial incentives directly to high-road labor standards, which means that Wisconsin workers will be hired to complete these projects. Under the IRA, if a developer builds a new utility-scale wind or solar farm, they’ll see their tax credit rise from 6% to 30% by paying workers the federal prevailing rate for wages and benefits, and for employing a certain number of apprentices.
Put another way: If developers don’t pay workers prevailing wages and benefits, or hire the required number of apprentices, they will lose 80% of the tax credit. This is particularly huge news for Wisconsin, where the federal prevailing wage rate will set a strong wage floor.
Instead of a race to the bottom, renewable energy projects will create good union jobs right here in the Midwest and expand career pathways so people in frontline communities can enter into lifelong union careers in the clean energy economy.
On top of that, developers will be eligible for additional benefits if they build renewable projects in low-income or fossil fuel dependent communities, and if they build with American-made materials, which will create jobs manufacturing solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles across the country and here in Wisconsin.
State and local governments will be eligible to receive these credits directly as cash through the IRA’s “direct pay” option, which means that every community can invest in climate upgrades that make our public schools and other important infrastructure healthier and carbon-free. All while creating good-paying local jobs.
New union jobs mean opportunities for people who have never had a chance to work for family-supporting wages, benefits and respect.
The importance of what this law will mean for climate jobs can’t be overstated. Right now, many workers in the renewable energy economy are laboring in low-wage, exploitative jobs without good benefits, retirement security or a collective voice.
This is huge news for working people across Wisconsin, who will see lower energy costs due to the move to renewable energy sources and stronger communities with more good-paying local jobs.
The climate jobs boom is coming, and thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, Wisconsin workers will be at the center of it.
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