Teamsters Build Solar Field in the Desert
Less than an hour south of Las Vegas, on the border of California in a flat valley of rocks and sparse vegetation, lies a state-of-the-art solar-power-generating field built by Teamster members. The Ivanpah solar power facility is a project that has turned a desert landscape into three enormous mirrored solar collecting fields. This facility will soon be up and running and providing electricity to thousands of homes in Southern California.
Teamster members of Bloomington, Calif.-based Local 166 work at this vast facility as drivers, inventory control staff, parts managers, and shipping and receiving staff. They work alongside ironworkers, steelworkers, electrical workers, operating engineers and laborers.
“We have a very talented group of members working on this project,” said John Davidson coordinator for Joint Council 42’s Apprenticeship Training Fund. “This solar electricity project is truly a collaboration between the corporation which owns it, Bechtel/Brightsource Inc., and the many union-represented trades here. The training we provide for construction members is rigorous, but they have to know their jobs very well in order to perform well.”
Thorough training isn’t the only thing that sets Teamster members apart from the other union workers on the site. Many of the Teamsters are veterans of the U.S. military.
World’s Largest Solar Field
Teamster members and the 17 other crafts represented on the project are getting closer to the launch of the largest solar field facility in the world, and the first solar project built in California in nearly 20 years.
Set to be operational in June 2013, the electricity generated by the project will power up to 140,000 homes in Southern California. The project consists of three separate plants, each with a solar tower that sucks up the solar energy reflected onto it by the thousands of mirrored panels (or heliostats) that surround a tower—a vast 1-mile radius per plant.
Instead of solar panels collecting the sun’s energy, they are instead mirrored panels which are computer-controlled and reflect the sun onto a segment of the solar tower, heating the area up in order to turn the exposed water pipes carrying water into steam. That steam powers a turbine which creates electricity. A highly efficient form of generating electricity, the type of clean energy produced here will help offset the carbon emissions of nearly 70,000 cars.
The beauty of all those heliostats surrounding the towers is that they were brought to the site by Teamsters.
The sheer amount of equipment, tools, vehicles and everything else required to build the site has been extraordinary. Teamster members haul the fragile heliostats (8 x 16 foot mirrors) to the rows of metal stands which surround each thermal conducting tower. The pace is slow due to the terrain and the requirement to transport each load of mirrors with no damage.
“Prior to joining the Teamsters I was a Marine at Camp Pendleton,” said John Flemmer, a Local 166 member. “I drive out to the solar fields loaded up with the mirrors. Its challenging but we get the work done.” Flemmer works with a crew of 17 other members on the site.
Supplying parts and equipment to Flemmer and the hundreds of other union members working the site is Ray Hoover, also a member of Local 166, who has been on the site daily since it opened more than two years ago.
“I have several guys that are part of the Helmets to Hardhats program on my crew,” Hoover said, referring to the Teamster-supported program that offers job assistance and training opportunities for union jobs to veterans (visit www.helmetstohardhats.org for more information). “They are the cream of the crop. These brothers and sisters have a willingness to learn.” As general foreman for procurement, Hoover is responsible for the entire site’s requirements for pipe, flanges and more.
In addition to tools, parts to the machines that are run by Teamsters and the other crafts are essential to the Ivanpah solar field operation. Fortunately, an Army veteran and Teamster member is in charge of that section of the project.
Jacob Moyer, who has worked at Ivanpah for the past seven months, was with the Army’s airborne field artillery in Anchorage, Alaska before working at the solar field. “It’s a great atmosphere here,” Moyer said. “I make sure that everything is running—from forklifts to trucks to cranes and more. I am the only parts manager here and I work side by side with the equipment manager and engineering crews. I found out about the Helmets to Hardhats program due to my aunt and uncle. They said I should look into it and so I contacted Local 166. This has been a life-changing experience for me.”
Members Above and Beyond
“We are grateful and honored to have so many military veterans working here at Ivanpah,” Davidson said. “The Helmets to Hardhats program has allowed veterans to return home and find well-paying, stable employment. The job sites they work on benefit, too.”
Ross Bowlin, another Teamster who is part of the Helmets to Hardhats project, has also worked at Ivanpah for the past two years and found out about the job in a unique way.
“I was a Marine and a buddy thought I should contact Helmets to Hardhats,” Bowlin said. “I was one of the first people they trained out here. I served two tours in Iraq as part of a combat engineer battalion. Before starting here at the site I went through the apprenticeship training at Local 166’s center.”
Another former Marine, Dolores Richards, now works managing inventory control for the sprawling site. “We have thousands of pieces of tools and we interact with all the other crafts here every day. This has been a very positive experience for me. I was a Marine for 21 years and I found out about the job through the veterans center in Victorville, Calif. I encourage female vets to get involved in the apprenticeship program and link up with Helmets to Hardhats.”
“My last Marine assignment was in Okinawa, Japan, where I managed small arms and machine guns,” Richards said. “That prior experience has been invaluable in my new job.”
“Our members do an incredible job at Ivanpah and I am proud of every one of them,” said Marion “Bubba” Davis, Director of the Teamsters Building Material and Construction Trade Division. “The work that the construction training trust fund has done to educate members and returning veterans has been outstanding.”
Training Offered by Construction Division
Members working on construction from the following locals can be trained at the Construction Teamsters Training and Upgrading Trust Fund at Local 166’s facility in Fontana, Calif.: Locals 87, 166, 186, 848 and 986.
The courses offered by the trust fund include boom class, off-road training and hazmat. For more information, contact the fund at (909) 349-0565 or email [email protected].