Opinion

Specialized training crucial for battery energy storage

An array of electrical storage batteries flanked by solar and wind energy devices. (Photo: petrmalinak, via Shutterstock)

As a former member of the Contractors State License Board (CSLB), and a licensed C-10 electrical contractor with more than 57 years in the industry, the importance of proper training and expertise necessary to protect the safety of workers, our customers and their properties cannot be overstated.

On Nov. 29, the CSLB is reopening a critical proceeding related to the safe installation of battery energy storage systems that are increasingly being installed in our homes, schools, hospitals and businesses.

I join a broad coalition of public safety leaders, electrical workers and licensed electrical contractors urging the CSLB to require anyone installing these electrical systems to have the proper training and licensing to best protect the public’s safety.

Storing energy, whether it be captured from solar arrays, wind farms or other means of carbon free energy generation is a key technology in helping California meet our ambitious clean energy and emission reduction goals.

In recent years, I’ve seen the increased demand in battery energy storage systems and recognize battery storage as an important clean energy technology.

However, I also know that – if installed improperly – these systems can pose a real public safety hazard. Improper installation and maintenance can lead to electrocution, fires and explosions. That’s why proper licensing and training is essential.

Under state law, electrical contractors are required to perform electrical work with state certified electricians who have at least 8,000 hours of electrical experience and pass a rigorous state electrical proficiency and safety exam.

Today, many battery energy storage systems are being purchased in combination with rooftop solar systems. Due to ambiguity in state regulations, the CSLB has allowed solar contractors to install battery energy storage systems when installed with a solar system.

However, these battery energy storage systems are separate electrical systems and are treated so by the California Fire Code. Allowing contractors who are only licensed to install solar systems to do this work, endangers the public because there is no state required electrical training, testing or certification for solar worker

So, while C-46 solar contractors have a business license allowing them to install solar systems, their workers are not certified by the state to ensure proper installation and consumer protection when installing other electrical systems.

Since 2017, the CSLB has held public meetings and listened to hours of public testimony to determine the proper license classification a contractor should hold to install these systems. They listened to experts on both sides, to solar installers, electricians, solar contractors, electrical contractors, public safety experts and neutral outside consultants.

Part of this process involved an evaluation by UC Berkeley that noted “the risks associated with battery energy storage system installations can include death and injuries to workers, emergency responders, and occupants of buildings and facilities.”

This summer, the CSLB voted to strictly enforce the C-46 solar contractor license and no longer allow contractors who are solely licensed as solar contractors to install battery storage systems.

But now, the CSLB is reopening these proceedings because the solar industry filed a lawsuit based on procedural violations, ignoring the fact that the CSLB had thoroughly vetted this issue and made the correct decision to protect workers and consumers. The solar industry is using corporate legal tactics to allow themselves to continue to perform work outside of their jurisdiction.

I urge the CSLB to uphold their ruling and move the process forward expeditiously. The CSLB made the right determination this summer by ruling that C-46 solar contractors are not properly licensed, and their workers are not certified to install battery storage systems.

They should do the right thing again by upholding that decision to protect consumers and the public’s safety.

Editor’s Note: Frank Schetter is the CEO of Schetter Electric, Inc.

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