January 13, 2010

DOL awards $100M for green workforce training; $4.8M goes to Austin, TX

Good news travels fast. Michael Kuhn, ImagineSolar, called me on Tuesday, January 6, 2010. When I heard his message on my voice mail, I knew the news was good:  the U.S. Department of Labor announced some $100 million in green jobs training grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act), Included…

Good news travels fast.

Michael Kuhn, ImagineSolar, called me on Tuesday, January 6, 2010. When I heard his message on my voice mail, I knew the news was good:  the U.S. Department of Labor announced some $100 million in green jobs training grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act),

Included in this program is a green jobs training grant of $4.8M to the Austin Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (AEJATC), ImagineSolar, and the Austin Workforce Investment Board to provide training to meet immediate needs at solar power plants in Austin and San Antonio and to support capacity-building in Arizona, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas, including Bexar County, Texas.

“Today’s announcement is part of the administration’s long-term commitment to fostering both immediate economic revitalization and a clean energy future. It’s an investment that will help American workers succeed while doing good,” said DOL Secretary Solis. “Our outstanding award recipients were selected because their proposed projects will connect workers to career pathways in green industries and occupations through critical, diverse partnerships.” (from the press release).

I knew about Michael’s proposal to DOL; he told me about it on our way to Anaheim last October for Solar Power International 2009.  He was pumped then; he was indescribably pumped as he gave me the details.

“I was asked recently ‘what does ImagineSolar make?,’ said Kuhn.  “It occurred to me that the answer was that ImagineSolar makes a difference…a difference in peoples’ lives.”

Under the grant, ImagineSolar will make a difference in the lives of 950 people in a 14 county area of Central Texas.

Additionally, the project will support capacity-building through train-the-trainer sessions in five neighboring states: Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, defined as the 7th District JATC.  This training, provided in year two of the project to at least 50 electrical trainers, will impart valuable industry-recognized, transferable skills that will support these areas’ ability to provide utility-scale and commercial solar training and installation in their areas.

Kuhn’s not a newcomer to the business.

He founded ImagineSolar in 2002 and, along with CH2M Hill’s, John Hoffner, helped establish the first community college solar program in Texas. Also, Kuhn and Hoffner were leaders in establishing the first solar incentive program in Texas with the City of Austin. Kuhn is both a NABCEP Certified PV Installer and an ISPQ Master Trainer – one of nine in the U.S.

This year, ImagineSolar is conducting projects out-of-state for DOE’s Solar America Cities initiative as well as continuing an active role locally in defining the new Austin Energy performance-based incentive program for large-scale solar energy projects.

Through their workforce development programs, ImagineSolar has alumni from across the United States and beyond who have successfully started a career in the solar and clean energy industries. This year, they plan to highlight their customers’ accomplishments on their website.

The grant allows ImagineSolar to offer their alumni real field experience where they install code-compliant, permitted and inspected PV systems.  “This ImagineSolar field experience workshop will satisfy NABCEP’s experience criteria, either for their traditional approach or their new alternative pathway for journeyworkers,” said Kuhn.   “Although they have hired our alumni, I have been unsuccessful in convincing installers to work with us to give our customers installation experience as a workshop.   Now, we can do it ourselves.”

ImagineSolar is also offering new training for workers on utility-scale solar power plants and on smart grid technologies.

“This grant allows us to forge new ground in the development of a trained workforce for utility-scale and commercial solar projects,” said Kuhn, “Texas utilities, such as Austin Energy, are leading the way to adopt solar energy as a major contributor to their renewable energy portfolios. We will make sure that there is a skilled, Texas-based workforce available to do the work.”

Just last year, Kuhn met and became good friends with Gilbert Ferrales, Training Director for the AEJATC.  That’s when he started another solar industry training program at the AEJATC. “Gilbert has a great facility – we will be expanding our solar field lab this year.”

So it was not surprising when the DOL solicitation for training hit the streets late last summer that Kuhn put together a dream team of organizations to respond.

AEJATC will lead the Comprehensive-National Electrician Solar Training (C-NEST) Initiative that combines utility-scale and commercial solar installation training with immediate employment opportunities in the Austin and San Antonio regions, thanks to planned solar power plants in the queue.

“Independently, we all had strong track records for training and education to various stakeholder groups,” said Kuhn. “It was a natural evolution for us to team up.”

The training is targeted at current and future workers, with skill sets ranging from unskilled labor to highly skilled electricians. The project’s targeted Construction Wiremen/ Construction Electricians (CWCEs), Apprentices, and Journeyworker Electricians represent three occupations – and three opportunities – on a single career ladder in a growing industry. The jobs for these workers are directly tied to utility-scale and commercial solar projects with the AEJATC’s twenty-two electrical contractors.

AEJATC’s connection with labor (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 520) and area contractors (National Electrical Contractors Association) enable this direct link to employment.

Happy New Year, Austin. And congratulations, Michael.