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The Role of Organized Labor in Advancing Community Solar: A Call for Solidarity and Equity - Don't forget your roots!

Updated: Mar 1



In the evolving landscape of the energy sector, community solar has emerged as a beacon of hope for sustainable and equitable energy solutions in Wisconsin. Community solar is currently illegal in Wisconsin. Community Solar offers not only an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels, but also a means to democratize energy access, particularly for low-to-middle-income families and middle-class communities. However, the path to widespread adoption of community solar is fraught with challenges, with organized labor playing a pivotal yet complex role in what happens next.


Organized Labor: A Double-Edged Sword

Organized labor is undeniably central to the strength and durability of the energy sector. It ensures fair wages and safe working conditions, fosters a skilled workforce, and contributes to the economic stability of countless families and communities. Yet, when labor unions oppose initiatives like community solar, they risk becoming pawns in a larger game of industry politics.


This is not to suggest that labor unions are inherently opposed to renewable energy. In fact, we know they recognize the potential of renewables to create jobs and stimulate economic growth. However, their primary allegiance should be to their members within the energy sector, which can lead to a narrow focus on their immediate job preservation at the expense of long-term sustainability and energy equity for all.


The Unseen Impacts of Energy Decisions Influenced by organized labor.

The decisions made within the energy sector have far-reaching implications that extend beyond the industry itself. The utility organized labor groups opposition to community solar exacerbates energy poverty by keeping utility prices high and limiting access to affordable, renewable energy options.


This is where the issue of classism comes into play. When labor unions in the energy sector oppose community solar, they are acting against the best interests of other sectors where organized labor exists. The workers in these sectors, many of whom are part of low-to-middle-income families, bear the brunt of the decisions made by the energy sector unions. They are the ones who suffer from surging utility prices and limited access to clean energy.


Consider the workers at Walmart, McDonald's, and those in the gig economy. They are examples of sectors where unorganized / under- protected, disenfranchised labor is present and where the decisions made by utility labor unions can have significant impacts. These workers, often living paycheck to paycheck, are the ones hit hardest by high energy costs, making the resistance to community solar not just an industry issue, but a matter of social equity.




A Call for Organized Labor Cross-Sector Solidarity

In light of these challenges, it is crucial for labor unions in the energy sector to broaden their perspective and consider the wider societal implications of their actions. Recognizing the importance of community solar is a critical first step.


Labor unions have a proud history of fighting for social justice and equality. Now, they have an opportunity to extend this legacy to the fight for energy equity. By supporting community solar, they can help ensure that the benefits of renewable energy are shared by all, not just a privileged few.




Furthermore, labor unions must resist being used as pawns in industry politics. Instead, they should leverage their collective power to advocate for policies that promote both job preservation and sustainable energy solutions.


The Pullman Porters provide a historical example of how labor can influence broader societal change. Their fight for fair wages and working conditions in the early 20th century not only improved their own lives but also contributed to the broader Civil Rights Movement, demonstrating the transformative power of organized labor when it aligns its interests with the greater good.


The transition to a more sustainable and equitable energy future is a complex and multifaceted challenge. However, one thing is clear: organized labor has a vital role to play. By recognizing the importance of community solar and resisting the forces of classism, labor unions can help pave the way for an energy future that is not only sustainable, but also just and inclusive. It's a future where everyone – regardless of income or industry sector – has access to affordable, clean energy. As history has shown us, when labor stands together, we all stand to benefit.





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