The San Bernadino Sun dropped a bombshell of a story this week when they reported that the California Solar and Storage Association filed a lawsuit against the state of California. With both the need and the demand for dependable home energy (and independently generated home electricity) skyrocketing, more and more homeowners across the country are going solar.
Solar installers are growing as the market expands, with homeowners not only looking to install solar arrays on their roofs, but also looking into battery storage and other accessory products as well. The issue rearing its ugly head now is yet another California regulatory agency, looking to add some red tape between homeowner and solar company.
Over the summer, California’s Contractors State License Board voted yes on two brand new bills effectively stopping solar companies from performing solar battery installations. The rule would go into effect as of November, 2021. The new regulation states these Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS), will only be allowed to be installed by contractors holding a C-10 electrical contractor license. So, despite many solar companies employing contractors holding C-46 licenses, solar installers will soon be handcuffed when it comes to battery installs.
What the Heck Is the Difference Between C-10 and C-46?
In a nutshell, C-10 contractors are entities employing certified electricians. They’re higher paid, and better trained, at least according to the state’s licensing boards. The California Solar and Storage Association, or CALSSA, doesn’t quite see it that way… which is why they’re filing suit.
The lawsuit was officially filed in San Francisco’s Superior Court, with CALSSA demanding the court overrule this new bogus regulation, maintaining the current training and regulatory protocols instead. CALSSA’s argument is simple: the evidence that C-46 contractors present a safety risk isn’t there. It’s a nothing burger, manufactured out of thin air, with the only result being more hassle and headaches surrounding battery system installs.
UC Berkeley’s Labor Center issued a similar finding. In a report commissioned by the Contractors State License Board, they found: “There have been no significant incidents with injury or death that we could identify.” Sounds like an open and shut case if you ask me.
Homeowners Want Safe Solar
The pushback from the state is exactly what you might expect. The lack of proof of accidents and hazards doesn’t necessarily equal a clean safety record, at least according to the state. California’s regulatory board is arguing it could be a case of “data gaps that preclude the ability to conclude that risks are low.”
Despite all the bickering back and forth, one thing is for certain: there is a huge demand for solar battery storage, and that market is only positioned to grow exponentially. California’s State Licensing Board has been dealing with contractor classification jurisdictional issues for BESS for years now, but with countless residents and homeowners looking into energy independence through solar panels daily, solar arrays and batteries are only expected to grow more popular.
Add to that the state’s relatively frequent power outages and blackouts, and you can imagine more and more homeowners will be seeking solar in the coming months and years. The Contractors State Licensing Board seems to be on the same page with this concept, having turned to UC Berkely for advice and recommendations on the matter. The certifications serve to “increase workers’ income and mobility,” according to research. Removing these certifications and standards of practice would only result in “inconsistent training carried out by contractors on the job, poorer wages and benefits, and fewer opportunities for transferability and career advancement for workers.” More can be found on this in UC Berkeley’s report.
Is the State Crossing the Line?
Raising wages leads to higher costs for solar, which, in reality, isn’t what the Contractors State License Board is supposed to be doing. The Board is really there to ensure safety measures are properly followed. With the report failing to find safety issues with battery installations performed by C-46 solar contractors, it seems as if the state may be overstepping. Thus the lawsuit.
Solar installers need to be able to perform these battery installations. The question becomes one of fair wages. As the Berkeley report puts it: “A CSLB ruling to allow C-46 to install BESS would, over time, result in downward pressure on wages for electricians and greater competitive pressures on C-10 contractors who invest in a higher skilled workforce.”
That statement alone may be a big red flag in this upcoming suit. It wouldn’t be the first time the state of California was accused of leveraging licensing requirements to protect a group of existing workers (think unions) at the expense of new workers in the industry looking to make their mark and gain employment. Solar companies need to expand diversity in hiring, pay fair wages to all employees, giving their workforce financial security while providing homeowners with what they want most: incredible solar panel systems that last decades, allow them to become energy independent, and save thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars in the process.