Climate change study says state should be ‘net-zero by 2050’

  • Elliot Henry. Contributed photo

  • Emily Vail installs a solar panel on a roof. Contributed photo

For the Recorder
Published: 3/25/2021 12:11:59 PM

Two years ago, Steve Kurkoski, a master electrician, started holding signs on the Warwick Common every week as a form of activism, alerting fellow-residents to start paying attention to the changing climate. At first, he stood alone. These days, 16 or more local activists join him on a regular basis — a sign that a deeper understanding of climate challenges faced globally has spread.

Legislation passed recently at the state level is concrete evidence of this local activism. According to the preface of the MA Decarbonization Roadmap, a climate change study released last December, “At a time when the nation and the world are grappling with a global pandemic, we are reminded that climate change presents a still greater long-term threat and one for which there will be no vaccine.”

The study is revealing. 

In 1989, the state passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which back then called for a reduction of 85 percent of greenhouse gasses over 1990 levels by 2050. But Earth is warming much faster than first assumed.

The recent study sets a new goal of “net-zero by 2050.”  

To that end, the state’s legislature passed The  2030 Clean Energy Climate Plan, a document that outlines strategies to be taken to achieve the goals laid out in the 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap.

The path to meeting those goals runs through energy efficiency, renewable power generation and by electrifying everything in order to eliminate fossil fuel consumption (coal, oil, propane, gas), which is currently powering society.

In order to achieve those goals and move the dial toward efficiency, the state is going to need skilled workers, especially electricians — a certification process that takes years to complete. According to Kurkoski, every electrical work site has to be under the supervision of a licensed master or journeyman electrician. Each is allowed one apprentice, so apprenticeships are hard to find.

It takes 600 hours of classes (four years of classes two nights per week), plus an 8,000-hour apprenticeship (four years of full-time work) and a half-day code-exam to become a journeyman electrician. A master’s license takes additional schooling, more time in the field and another in-depth exam. Finally, master and journeyman electricians have required courses to update their code-knowledge every three years or lose their license.

Graduates earn an average income of over $80,000 a year.

But while the job can be well-paying and will be in demand in the future, there is a shortage of licensed electricians, according to Elliot Henry, a journeyman electrician and a worker-owner at Pioneer Valley PhotoVoltaics Co-op (PVSquared).

“We lost 20,000 electricians just last year,” said Henry, who was hired by PVSquared four years ago. The business paid his tuition, plus a stipend, to get through school. He had to commute to Northampton because there is no school able to graduate a licensed electrician in Franklin County.

“Classes at Smith Vocational are already jam-packed,” he said. “Many aspiring electricians work a full day and then drive to Northampton for a three-hour class.”

Emily Vail is one of those students. She is a young woman working in what has historically been considered an all-male field. As an apprentice at PVSquared, she drives to Smith Vocational night school where she is studying to become an electrician. She studies while installing solar panels full time. 

“I was working as a farmer in the valley, having graduated in sustainable agriculture from UMass. My partner was becoming an electrician and we were living with solar, off the grid. I wanted to apply to PVSquared for a job, but figured they would not take me unless I had a head start, so I studied for a year on my own,” she said. “Only a few places train apprentice electricians. I am going to Smith Vocational night school, but there is also Springfield Tech, Gould Construction Institute, Porter-and-Chester (Chicopee). None close.”

But while it’s a busy schedule, Vail says the work is rewarding.

“I enjoy being outside with a small team. We do installations in a great variety of places: residential; commercial, and PVSquared is about to take on the new River Valley Market in Easthampton,” she said. “PVSquared is great.  It’s a work culture where other people care about your voice, about being heard, and we are, after all, contributing to solarizing.”

Pam Kelly, has lived in Franklin County close to 20 years, and was former director of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s national economic justice network. Contact Kelly at PamelaSKelly@comcast.net.


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