We all know that solar energy is good for the environment and good for your pocketbook. Even a small solar array on a DC rowhouse roof can significantly reduce electricity costs. But, did you know that solar energy is also creating jobs for District residents? In 2017, Washington, DC, increased its solar energy workforce by 10 percent and now ranks sixth in the number of solar jobs per capita in the US.
GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic is working to ensure that residents are a part of this growing workforce through the Solar Works DC program, a three-year, low-income solar-installation and job-training initiative spearheaded by the District’s Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) and the Department of Employment Services (DOES).
GRID Alternatives was founded in California in 2001 and now works across the nation and internationally to make solar photovoltaic (PV) technology practical and accessible for low-income communities that need the savings and jobs. GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic launched in 2014 and is implementing the first year of the Solar Works DC program, providing job training to participating District residents in the solar and renewable industries.
The program is rigorous and thorough. Trainees who complete GRID’s Installation Basics Training (IBT) program gain skills and earn certificates. They also attend customer outreach and construction workshops, receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10 certifications and take the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners Photovoltaic (NABCEP PV) associate credential exam.
The hands-on training includes installing solar arrays on qualified low-income single-family homes. To date, 35 lower-income homes have been outfitted with solar array installations at no cost, with some 60 to 100 installations planned per year over the next three years of the program.
Amy McKelvin, a Ward 5 solar array recipient, says, “I’m very proud and happy that I was able to get solar through the Solar Works DC program. I’m really feeling comfortable about it, because I will get a discount on my electric bill. I am very happy that I was able to get that.”
This past fall, 22 District residents participated in the 12-week GRID Alternatives program. Two months later, nine of them are employed in the renewable energy/solar field. A second training program will be launched this spring, and a six-week prorated job-training program will be offered this summer to residents ages 18-24 through the Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program.
Nicole Steele, executive director of GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, is proud of this program. “Connecting individuals to well-paying solar jobs is a key part of GRID’s mission. Seeing our trainees learn the basics of solar installation, develop their skills on the job site and transition into the rapidly growing DC solar industry after graduation speaks to the success of hands-on job training and the Solar Works DC program.”
Perhaps more importantly, the trainees, now professional solar installers, rave about the program. Reginald Chandler graduated from DC’s Eastern High School in 2015. A Ward 5 resident, he completed the GRID Alternatives Solar Works DC training program this past fall and is currently serving with GRID as an AmeriCorps Fellow. “My favorite thing about Solar Works DC was the job training. I had no direction before with my career or training, I was delivering pizza.”
Solar Works DC is part of the District’s Renewable Portfolio Standard [RPS] Expansion Amendment Act of 2016, which aims to increase access to clean energy and create a long-term pipeline for green jobs. Over the course of the three-year program, Solar Works DC intends to train more than 200 residents and install solar systems on up to 300 low-income single-family homes in the District.
DOEE Director Tommy Wells is a huge fan of Solar Works DC, noting, “The mayor has often said that what’s good for the environment is good for the economy. Solar Works DC proves that to be the case by helping out-of-work or underemployed DC residents get trained for the fastest growing industry in the country – solar power. Our goal is to provide at least five percent of the city’s energy needs from renewable solar power locally generated. This is a win for everyone involved including our future generations.”
Know of someone who should take advantage of this program either as a trainee or a homeowner? If so, contact GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic at 202-602-0191.
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is a board member and conservation chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, but the perspectives expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.