More training of solar technicians planned by TMCC

Russ Cartwright, the operations manager for Independent Power Corp. in Reno, has been training solar technicians by himself for the better part of three decades.

Small wonder, then, that Cartwright was among those applauding most loudly as Truckee Meadows Community College last week took another step toward creation of a program to train and certify solar technicians.

Television crews focused their attention on the installation of solar

panels on the school's IGT Applied Technology Center on Edison Way panels that will provide training to students and information about solar to the public.

But behind the scenes, college officials have been working to build a pipeline to produce enough skilled technicians to meet a growing perhaps even explosively growing need for workers.

The Target2010 study from 2006 that set economic development goals for the region identified renewable energy including solar as one of the target industries for future growth.

But the consulting firm that completed that study for the Economic

Development Authority of Western Nevada noted that a thin supply of skilled workers presents a hurdle to development of the clean-energy industry.

The utility that works closely with the renewable-energy industry shares the concern.

"Renewable energy is truly a growing industry in northern Nevada," says Mary Simmons, vice president of external affairs for Sierra Pacific Power. "We need a workforce of trained technicians."

The utility is under a legislative mandate to produce 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2015. Its executives have said much of that power will come from solar installations, particularly in the Las Vegas area. The state already ranks first in the nation in solar capacity per capita.

"It's important to make sure that our contractors have a pool of trained technicians," says utility spokesman Karl Wahlquist.

In fact, Sierra Pacific Power is concerned enough about the availability of skilled workers that its foundation came up with a $100,000 donation to make the solar installation a reality at the TMCC building.

TMCC officials, too, have been keeping a close eye on the growing demand for trained technicians to serve the solar industry as well as other renewable energy applications such as geothermal and wind.

Ted Plaggemeyer, dean of math, science, engineering and technology at TMCC, says the school clearly didn't want to be too late in meeting the demand of a growing industry but it also didn't want to be too early.

As it gears up, TMCC has been offering workshops and increasing its teaching about renewables. Next up, Plaggemeyer says, is a planned two-year degree for solar technicians.

The school also will continue to offer sessions to boost the skills of workers already in the solar industry and help them win industry certification. And TMCC will continue to incorporate instruction about renewable energy into science and other classes.

The solar panels also provide some business students who want to learn how to pencil out the costs of solar.

Under a Sierra Pacific Power program to provide rebates to customers who install energy-saving systems, TMCC will get a rebate of $46,000 $4.60 per watt on the 10-kilowatt solar system it installed.


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