This time of year in Maine is among my favorites as the weather cools and the roads become less crowded. This year, like several years in recent memory, that cooling is taking place later and later into the fall season. The impact of this climate shift goes far beyond extending our enjoyment of autumn. It ultimately threatens the livelihoods of the many Mainers who depend on working the land or who work on the water. Those impacts bleed into all of our lives as entire workforces and economies suffer.

As a state, a nation and a world, we’ve recognized that climate change is an existential threat. Here in Maine, we’ve taken steps to do our part in response to this threat. Some of the goals established by the Maine Climate Council to address the climate crisis are directed at Maine’s energy infrastructure, including a proposal to transition to 80% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% renewable energy by 2050. I am extremely proud that we’ve adopted this ambitious approach, but it leads us to an interesting question about logistics on the ground.

With the establishment of these goals, we are essentially launching an entirely new green economy. How we want to structure that economy and especially its workforce is yet to be determined. According to the Bangor Daily News, there have been requests to put more than 2,000 megawatts of power onto the grid in the last two years. That’s 300 MW more than the current peak our grid sees. This is an exceptional amount of generation and will take an immense amount of work by the women and men of Maine to make it a reality. That’s why last session I introduced a bill, LD 1231, that would have ensured that those women and men benefit appropriately from that work and that the working conditions in this new sector reflect our broader values as a state.

My bill required renewable energy projects that receive at least $50,000 in state assistance to establish protections for the many Maine craftsmen and -women working on the projects. It also insisted that specified renewable energy projects meet labor standards such as a prevailing wage and access to workforce development opportunities. It is critical that we establish these standards to support an inclusive workforce and take care of the folks doing this truly critical work.

The bill specified other workforce development parameters, too. It required that the work performed on these projects specifically benefit disadvantaged communities and encouraged the hiring of individuals who are typically underrepresented on construction sites. Additionally, the bill required renewable energy contractors to utilize registered apprenticeship programs to help strengthen and diversify the pathways to this type of work. In an effort to ensure safe working conditions and facilitate a more equitable power distribution during employees’ negotiations with their employers, the bill stipulated that any entity that signs a project labor agreement will receive beneficial consideration during the Maine Public Utility Commission’s procurement process.

While my bill did not become law last session, I am committed to working for these critical systemic changes moving forward. This type of intentional workforce planning blends my experience working on labor and workers’ rights issues with my professional experience as an electrician and now as a member of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. We’ve all heard the promises that we can both solve the dilemma of global climate change and build a better economy at the same time. My bill would make that a reality by establishing a thoughtful framework to propel Maine into a clean and just future.

Rep. Scott Cuddy, D-Winterport, is serving his second term in the Maine House of Representatives. A lifelong Winterport resident, Cuddy formerly served on the Regional School Unit 22 Board of Directors, the boards of Northeast Workforce Development and Maine Center for Economic Policy.

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