Some say “greenmail” tactics used by labor unions will become more common in solar development
February 08, 2011 5:37 PM
Karen Jonas, Staff Writer

KRAMER JUNCTION • A proposed solar energy facility near Kramer Junction was approved by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday, despite opposition by a local union group.

The planning commission had previously approved the project last October, but members of the Local 477 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said they had specific environmental concerns about the project, including the water supply needed for the project and concerns about drainage and animals in the area.

A lawyer representing the Local 477 IBEW said Tuesday that her clients wanted to make sure that the water supply was adequate for the area. Robyn Purchia said that her clients simply don’t feel that there is enough water to supply the project and wanted a full environmental impact report on the project, instead of the Water Supply Assessment that the county did for the project.

“We are not asking that renewable energy not be generated, we are simply asking that the renewable energy be responsibly generated,” said Purchia.

Members of two organizations that are opposing labor unions that attempt to stop or delay solar projects say that the labor unions are essentially using elements of the California Environmental Quality Act to “greenmail” project developers into signing project labor agreements. Once a developer signs a labor agreement, the opposition to the project disappears, said Kevin Dayton, state government affairs director for Associated Builders and Contractors of California.

Dayton said that labor unions are the biggest obstacle to solar projects in California because of their attempts to get project developers to sign labor agreements. He said that he hoped that Gov. Jerry Brown would amend CEQA in order to keep labor unions from blocking solar projects throughout California.

A representative of another organization opposing the “greenmail” tactics used by labor unions said that he believes that the lawsuits and environmental injunctions filed on the behalf of labor unions are going to become increasingly common in Southern California. Eric Christen, a representative of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, said that the project developers normally win such disputes, but pointed out that such delays cost money and can cause a developer to cancel the project.

“Is the delay and the cost of the delay worth the win?” asked Christen.

The facility will be located on the south side of Highway 58 in Kramer Junction, about 1.5 miles west of Highway 395. The project has an estimated cost of $140 million. LightSource Renewables LLC is based in San Diego and currently has one other project awaiting approval in the Imperial Valley.

The Kramer Junction project will be about 40 megawatts and should produce enough energy to power 18,000 homes.Get complete stories every day with the “exactly as printed” Daily Press E-edition, only $5 per month! Click here to try it free for 7 days. To subscribe to the Daily Press in print or online, call (760) 241-7755, 1-800-553-2006 or click here.