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New law could boost labor union presence in Maine renewable energy projects

Dave Kolpack
Associated Press/via Bangor Daily News

As Maine continues to expand its investments in renewable energy infrastructure, organized labor is notching some policy victories aimed at boosting union workers' presence in the green economy.

This week, Gov. Janet Mills allowed a new law to go into effect without her signature that will require developers to pay prevailing wages to workers on commercial, mid- and large-scale renewable energy projects. And it will also allow regulators to give extra weight to bids for big public renewable energy projects that include agreements with unions or employee-owned contractors.

"Maine is becoming a national leader in making sure we tackle climate change and inequality together and making sure we have a worker-centered plan for climate action," says Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the AFL-CIO.

The measure was opposed by business groups, with solar power advocates saying it would slow recent progress on combating climate change with new, nonpolluting electricity sources. The new law will go into effect for projects that are proposed starting in Jan. 2023.

Schlobohm adds that last year lawmakers passed a law requiring the inclusion of union workers in the construction of a ratepayer-financed wind farm off Maine's coast, and another law requiring that a $20 million state investment in climate-resilient affordable housing do the same.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.