In summary

Assembly Bill 1720 will help the state move forward building clean energy storage and create jobs through infrastructure projects.

By Robbie Hunter, Special to CalMatters

Robbie Hunter is president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, rhunter@sbctc.org.

Free fall. That’s how people are describing California’s economy as the coronavirus ravages on.

Virtually overnight, one in five Californian’s became – and unfortunately remain – unemployed. In Los Angeles, the unemployment rate is tracking with the peak of the Great Depression. In other parts of the state, the jobless rate is projected to climb as high as 40%. As former Gov. Gray Davis said about today’s challenges, “There’s no playbook. There’s no precedent.”

The need for bold action is obvious, urgent and indeed without precedent. Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature have been quick and adept in responding thus far through executive orders and an overhaul to the state budget.

Now the real work begins.

We have to get pen-to-paper serious about shaping economic recovery programs that rapidly create good-paying jobs while still achieving some of the state’s major policy goals, top among them the fight against climate change.

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In my mind and in the mind of many others, this means we look at investing in the state’s lagging infrastructure

One tangible way to do that is embodied in Assembly Bill 1720, introduced by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, a Democrat from Los Angeles, which will help the state move forward building clean energy storage projects. Even better, this bill creates jobs through infrastructure projects without reliance on general funds dollars.

Building clean energy storage can address our state’s long-term needs, help us build a cleaner, more reliable electric grid, create and support thousands of good-paying jobs and provide new economic opportunity in long economically neglected communities.

The state has identified an urgent need for up to 1,600 megawatts of long duration energy storage to be built by 2026 to keep the lights on while meeting California’s climate and clean energy goals. Long duration storage can provide large amounts of energy generated from solar and wind to the grid for eight hours or more. Some prime examples include infrastructure-scale pumped hydro, compressed air and hydrogen energy storage technologies.

No ground can be broken on new projects, though, until the state puts in place a workable procurement structure for large scale projects. The California Public Utilities Commission is making progress, but is at risk of not meeting its goals in time. AB 1720 will provide a safety net to ensure we get projects built and can put people to work. The state has identified the need for a clean energy project. This bill makes sure it happens.

Two examples of shovel-ready storage projects are the Eagle Mountain pumped hydroelectric project in the Inland Empire and the San Vicente Pumped Storage Project in San Diego. Together, these projects will support more than 20,000 good paying jobs, many in underserved areas with skyrocketing poverty and unemployment rates.

And we’re not just talking about construction jobs. The projects will have ripple effects supporting jobs across a multitude of other industries from building materials to transportation, and from housing to food service.

Construction of these projects also will offer apprenticeships for young workers looking to transform their lives and livelihoods, building a ladder for long-term economic prosperity and creating a more equitable and inclusive workforce. More than half of people entering apprenticeship programs for renewable energy construction jobs are people of color, and the inclusion of veterans in these apprenticeship programs is higher than the state’s workforce as a whole.

As Einstein famously said, “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” That is true for California today.

AB 1720 is the right solution at the right time to build much needed clean energy infrastructure and put Californians back to work. As the daily news reports on the impacts of this virus make clear, there is not a moment to waste.

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