R.J. Willing, left, Army veteran, and Spc. Paul Largett, 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, install a solar inverter which takes DC electricity from the solar array and turns it into AC electricity to power a household. (Photo by Fort Carson Army Garrison)
Western customers Fort Carson in Colorado and Hill Air Force Base in Utah are participating in a Department of Energy (DOE) program to prepare military veterans for careers in the solar power industry.
Solar Ready Vets, part of DOE’s SunShot Initiative, is an intensive six-week training course to teach transitioning service members and vets about photovoltaics (PV). DOE launched the pilot program in 2014 because translating military experience into civilian jobs is one of the toughest challenges veterans face. The solar industry is adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy, and many veterans already have a strong background in basic technical skills that will help them succeed in the field.
Working with leaders
Ft. Carson, Camp Pendleton in California and Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia were the first facilities to offer the course. In April, President Obama visited Hill Air Force Base, the fourth training site to announce that DOE is expanding Solar Ready Vets to a total of ten military bases. DOE will work with the Department of Defense to choose the remaining six facilities. Strength of the local solar market and the training capacity of nearby Solar Instructor Training Network (SITN) partners will factor into the decision.
Located in a state with a thriving solar industry, Ft. Carson Army Garrison near Colorado Springs was a natural choice to host Solar Ready Vets. Western worked with Ft. Carson and eight other federal agencies in 2007 to finance and install a 2-megawatt (MW) PV system on the base, the largest array on an Army facility at the time. The array is part of the base’s sustainability program that addresses energy and water use, transportation, waste and local habitat.
Renewable energy is also part of the power supply at Hill Air Force Base. The Air Force built its first landfill gas facility at Hill in 2006, and has since expanded it to three generators producing 2.3 MW annually. A large solar array, commissioned in 2009, contributes another 220 kilowatts of clean power to base operations.
Theory backs up practice
The Ft. Carson pilot class of 23 trainees studied PV systems from the basics of electricity to design to installation. The course also covered battery backup and storage, permitting and basic troubleshooting, and included the “why” behind the practical steps. At the end of the course, they earned their OSHA 10-hour construction card and took the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners Entry Level Exam. All 23 successfully passed the NABCEP certification.
Spc. Briceldo Rosas, left, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, works with Capt. Karl Gustke, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Inf. Div., on a simulated rooftop to install flashing for a solar array installment. (Photo by Fort Carson Garrison)
More than half the training involved hands-on learning, using a field lab created by lead instructor Solar Energy International (SEI). One of the founding members of the SITN, the Paonia, Colorado-based, solar education organization conducted the trainings at Ft. Carson and Camp Pendleton. “We are very excited to be involved in this program,” said Chris Turek, SEI director of Marketing and Alumni Outreach. “Job training is an important part of military service, and the skills that Solar Ready Vets teaches can be valuable for active as well as transitioning service members.”
As a post-911 veteran himself, Turek has a strong personal connection to the program. After completing his degree and working in other related industries for a few years, he joined SEI. “Vets are used to working as part of a team that places high priority on safety and results, which makes the solar industry a great fit for them,” he said.
Out of service, into jobs
The solar industry clearly agrees, with SolarCity, Vivint Solar, SunRun, SunPower and SunEdison lining up to interview participants following their graduation. “Several graduates have received job offers already,” said Ft. Carson Career Skills Program Manager Sherry Jenkins. “Some are waiting until they get closer to their separation dates to interview but they excited about opportunities that await them.”
DOE lined up the solar companies to interview graduates, but Jenkins said local businesses could also contact the base if they are interested in conducting interviews with the graduates. Turek pointed out that the training is applicable for all types of solar-related businesses. “The skills we teach prepare graduates for positions in management, PV installation and sales, as well as technical positions,” he said. “Utilities that are looking to scale up their solar programs could definitely find qualified candidates here.”
Interest, opportunities growing
Ft. Carson kicked off a second training May 12 with 24 students, and another one is being planned for August. Class size is limited to 25 participants, and the first one was a bit of a tough sell, Jenkins acknowledged. “Now word is getting out and the classes are filling rapidly,” she said, adding, “We have our first women members in the current class, and they tell me that they love it.”
Hill AFB plans to offer training this fall. The free program is open to active military personnel who are within a few months of moving to veteran status. DOE further screens for applicants with good math skills and some electricity or construction experience. In this initial phase, participants are selected only from the bases where the training is held. However, current veterans may participate now in solar skills training through their regional SITN educational partners. The network consists of more than 400 community colleges across the country.
Utilities with job openings for Solar Ready Vets may contact the base education or transition office near them:
- Ft. Carson (Army)
Career Skills Program Coordinator
Directorate of Human Resources
1675 Long Street, Bldg. 1117, Room 124
Ft. Carson, CO 80913
Office: 719-526-8075 DSN: 691-8075
- Camp Pendleton (Marines)
Director, Personal and Professional Development
US Marine Corps-Camp Pendleton
Mr. Derrick Christovale; 951-725-6652
Ms. Pat Jeffress; 951-725-6414
Career and Personal Readiness:
Ms. Veronica Largent; 951-725-6320
Jobs can also be posted through on-base hiring fairs and military employment channels.
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Source: Green Power News via Solar Energy International, 4/30/15