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Green Building News

Solar Jobs, Nevada Update, Codes Lawsuit, Chicago Energy Reporting

A roundup of recent developments in green building

Employment in the solar industry is going up, while falling energy prices are forcing oil and gas firms to downsize.
Image Credit: Oregon Department of Transportation / Creative Commons license / Flickr

Solar jobs on the rise

The nation’s solar industry added 35,000 jobs last year, while oil and gas companies shed 17,000 so-called “extraction” jobs. CNN Money reports that there are now more people working in the solar industry than at oil and gas fields.

Oil prices have dropped by 70% in the last 18 months, hitting a 12-year low in the $30-a-barrel range.

Solar energy now employs some 209,000 workers in the U.S., including panel installers, designers, engineers, salespeople, and managers, CNN said. That’s not only bigger than the oil and gas construction workforce but almost three times as big as total coal mining employment. And growth has been accelerating; there were only 93,500 solar workers just five years ago.

The wage picture also is rosy. CNN said that solar installers on average make about $21 an hour, an increase of 5% from a year earlier. California has the most solar jobs in the country. The number two spot goes to Massachusetts.

Nevada solar customers sue

The uproar over a decision by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to phase out retail net-metering for solar customers of NV Energy shows no signs of dying down.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports that state residents with solar panels are suing the utility, claiming it lured them into investing tens of thousands of dollars in their solar arrays and then conspired with regulators to hike monthly rates and cut reimbursements, thereby lowering the value of their PV systems.

Two owners of PV systems in Las Vegas filed suit on January 12 and are seeking class-action status that would allow them to represent other solar customers. There are about 17,000 NV Energy customers who were affected by the PUC’s December decision.

The suit says that the owners never would have made the investments had they known that NV Energy “would act in an anticompetitive manner to restrain trade,” the newspaper said.

The PUC’s decision affected all solar customers and made no provision for grandfathering those whose systems were already installed. That prompted solar installers Sunrun, SolarCity, and Vivint to announce that they were leaving the state; SolarCity also dismantled a recently opened training center for solar workers.

The state’s Bureau of Consumer Protection has asked regulators to reconsider their new rate structure, arguing that it was a “matter of integrity and honor that will severely damage the reputation of Nevada’s government and its ability to persuade customers to engage in programs in the future.”

Under the new rate plan, monthly service charges for solar customers, who are now in their own rate class, will go up and prices paid for power sent to the grid will decline until they reach the wholesale rate over the next five years. Solar customers now earn the retail rate for excess power they send to the grid.

Code groups go to court

Two of the country’s building product evaluation agencies are headed for court.

The International Code Council Evaluation Service (ICC-ES) earlier this month filed a copyright infringement complaint in federal court against the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO). In a news release, ICC-ES said that IAPMO “has extensively and repeatedly copied ICC-ES’ copyrighted evaluation reports and acceptance criteria” used by designers, manufacturers, and building safety officials.

ICC-ES said that it has “exhausted all other avenues” and now wants the court to approve an injunction barring IAPMO from distributing the contested material.

In a statement of its own, IAPMO said that it stands by its process, its reports, and its “rightful position in the marketplace.”

CEO Russ Chaney said that ICC approached IAPMO last October with concerns that IAPMO’s evaluation reports were similar to those issued by ICC-ES.

“Although we believed then, as we do now, that ICC’s claims were without legal merit, IAPMO made significant efforts in the intervening months to placate ICC’s demands, including amending the process by which we create reports and reissuing some reports in a manner that we expected would fully address ICC’s concerns,” Chaney’s statement said. “ICC contends that a minimal number of evaluation reports posted to the IAPMO website are infringing; which IAPMO emphatically denies.”

He said despite ICC-ES’s attempt to “chill competition in the marketplace,” IAPMO would continue to offer its evaluation services to manufacturers and expected to be “fully vindicated.”

Large Chicago properties file energy reports

More of Chicago’s largest buildings are now reporting annual energy use, with the number of properties last year hitting 1,840, a five-fold increase from the previous year.

The city released its Building Energy Benchmarking report last month, part of an effort to trim the amount of energy the city’s large properties use. Chicago’s energy ordinance requires properties larger than 50,000 square feet to track their use of energy and report it every year to the city.

The infographic developed from 2015 results sees potential savings from better energy efficiency ranging from 13% to 24%, with reductions worth up to $184 million.

Program partners have developed a map allowing the public to find buildings and compare their energy performance. Sustainable Chicago reports that the idea is to let owners and managers compare notes and identify ways for cutting energy use. Building tenants can use the map to check the energy performance of their leased space and to open talks with the building owner if performance is not up to what was expected. Energy performance also could become part of lease negotiations.

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