Clean energy jobs are coming to coal country. Appalachian region solar developer Solar Holler and Coalfield Development Corporation, a non-profit job recruitment organization, jointly announced a partnership to train 100 new workers over the next 18 months for solar careers.
Following the recently announced award to the ACT (Appalachian Climate Technology) Now Coalition, the two entities will collaborate on strategies to recruit, train and employ local workers in the growing renewable energy industry in West Virginia and around the Appalachian region.
ACT Now is a coalition formed by Coalfield Development to grow sustainable energy, infrastructure and industry in southern West Virginia. It includes the state’s two universities, several unions, and more than 50 private company employers, which includes Solar Holler. One piece of ACT Now is the Repower Appalachia Initiative, which seeks to increase solar and other renewable energy deployments by ten times in West Virginia. The initiative projects $100 million of annual investment into workforce training with a goal of installing 750 rooftop solar projects per year from companies such as Solar Holler.
In 2022, the coalition competed against nearly 600 other nationwide groups as part of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge. ACT Now was one of 21 winners and received a federal award of $62.8 million to spur job development activities in the Mountain State.
“Solar has never been more promising in Appalachia, not just because we’re bringing affordable power to more and more folks every day, but because of the ripple effects,” said Dan Conant, chief executive officer of Solar Holler. “In the beginning, we set out to strengthen local communities and give folks the opportunity to stay and build careers in their hometowns. This partnership will help see that we continue to do just that.”
Solar Holler has developed a training program with the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and carpenters union. On February 2, Solar Holler announced a high school apprenticeship program in partnership with Wayne High School and Pioneer Career Launch program, which will allow participating students to shadow Solar Holler installation crews to learn the industry basics through hands-on experience.
As of the announcement date, five Wayne High School seniors have been selected to kick off the solar apprenticeship program. Upon completion, the students will have the opportunity to be hired into full time positions with Solar Holler or other solar developers.
Formed in 2013, Solar Holler is a licensed solar developer based in Shepherdstown, W. Va., providing residential and commercial solar installation and financing solutions in West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, and Ohio. The company was started by Dan Conant, who previously worked at SunCommon and the Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative. Solar Holler’s first two West Virginia solar projects at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church and Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Public Library received national and statewide recognition for using crowdfunding during development.
Based in Wayne, W. Va., Coalfield Development has created over 250 new jobs, trained over 1,200 people, and assisted in bringing $20 million of new investment into the Appalachia region. Its enterprises include construction job training, deconstruction of old properties and use of reclaimed materials for furniture making training and employment in solar installation, mountain top mining land reclamation, and other support solutions.
Interested parties seeking job opportunities in the Appalachian region can apply or receive more information on the coalition’s online job board.
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), West Virginia was the second-largest coal producer in the nation in 2020 and accounted for 13% of U.S. total coal production, and coal accounted for 88% of the state’s electricity net generation.
With only 20 MW of solar installed, West Virginia is currently ranked 48th in the nation for solar energy installations. Over the next five years the Mountain State is projected to see 671 MW of new solar development, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). When EDF Renewables’ 92.5 MW Wild Hill Solar project is complete, it is expected to be the largest solar installation in the state. It will then be eclipsed by a 250 MW project by SEVA WV, to be built on the site of a former coal mine. Total project cost is estimated at around $320 million, which is considerably more than the $54 million in total solar investment in the state previously, according to the SEIA.
FirstEnergy, an electric utility serving West Virginia, recently announced that it will permanently retire a coal ash facility and build a 6 MW site as part of a larger 50 MW solar portfolio.
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