Contractors State License Board’s Expert Recommends Limiting C-46 Licenses for Solar Battery Energy Storage Systems

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By Thomas A.T. Ferrari

At its July 27, 2021 teleconference meeting [Agenda Item C], Contractors State License Board (CSLB) heard a presentation from UC Berkeley’s Labor Center on the Battery Energy Storage Systems Study, which strongly recommended that CSLB preclude C-46 licensees from installing BESS in all residential, commercial, and utility-scale BESS projects as this work should be performed by certified electricians. CSLB staff asked UC Berkeley to research whether C-46 contractors should be permitted to install solar-power BESS, and if so, under what specific conditions. Specifically, CSLB asked UC Berkeley to review and recommend one of the following four options: (1) preclude the C-46 Solar classification from installing battery energy storage systems; (2) permit the C-46 Solar classification to install battery energy storage systems on specified residential units that do not require electrical system upgrades, with size restrictions of <20kW; (3) permit the C-46 Solar classification to install battery energy storage systems on specified residential units that do not require electrical system upgrades, with plans approved by an electrical engineer; or (4) make no change to the existing C-46 classification, interpreted as allowing C-46 to install solar PV with BESS.

The UC Berkeley BESS Study had three key findings.  First, the profile of contractors performing BESS installations in California includes a “very small percentage of contractors holding a C-46 but no C-10, A, or B license” and “that precluding or restricting C-46 (no C-10, A or B) contractors will have a negligible effect on the current pool of contractors.”  Second, an analysis of the hazards, risks, and safety issues revealed that BESS incidents are rare but “have serious consequences,” and certified electricians have the “technical capacity and knowledge” to deal with rapidly developing BESS technologies.  Third, the “minor cost increases due to requirements for certification are unlikely to constrict demand for BESS or undermine the effectiveness of government incentives.”  Regarding the availability of contractors and workforce, the study found an ample supply of C-10 workers and certified electricians, and existing pathways for increasing supply of both. Regarding the cost of these recommendations, the study found that the cost of BESS installations by C-10 contractors is comparable to C-46 contractors, even though certified electricians have higher wages.  Finally, the study found the recommendations would provide additional benefits, such as higher wages for certified electricians, clear signals to training institutions about relevant in-demand skills, and pathways to equity via certified apprenticeship.

CSLB member comments were split regarding how the Board should proceed based on the study and expert recommendations.  The split was between whether the Board should follow California Administrative Procedures Act rulemaking procedures, or if a majority Board-approved motion was sufficient to adopt UC Berkeley’s recommendations.  There was also a Board member comment addressing whether new technologies could change the findings in the analysis.

At the same July Board meeting, there were 138 public comments.  Some members of the public against adopting the study’s recommendations raised issues with CSLB becoming involved in regulating policy rather than consumer complaints, especially with the lack of evidence in support of the safety risks that would be mitigated by the recommendations. Members of the public in favor of adopting the study’s recommendations highlighted the importance of having “qualified” installers to best promote consumer and employee safety.

At its July 27, 2021 meeting, the Board approved the expert recommendation to limit the scope of C-46 licenses.  On August 12, 2021, the Board published an Industry Bulletin announcing the new license classification, which has since then been rescinded.  On September 17, 2021, a complaint was filed in superior court against CSLB alleging that CSLB had engaged in “underground rulemaking” in violation of California’s Administrative Procedure Act.  On October 4, 2021, the Attorney General filed a written stipulation agreeing to voluntarily stay enforcement of CSLB’s July 27 decision. The Board is currently working on the rulemaking package to implement the expert recommendations to limit the scope of C-46 licenses.

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