Delaware to begin training new 'green workers'

WILMINGTON, DELAWARE - When Dale Davis began installing solar-panel systems 10 years ago, his primary customers were "fervent environmentalists."

"It didn't matter that it cost four times as much and that it took 25 years to recoup their investment," said Davis, president of CMI Electric, a Wilmington solar contractor. "They did it because it was the right thing to do."

Now though, interest in home weatherization, solar, wind and geothermal power isn't just about altruism anymore. In Delaware and beyond, government leaders see it as the key to lifting the state — and the country — out of economic turmoil.

In October, Delaware Technical & Community College will launch the first of what educators intend to be a slate of programs to train energy auditors, facilities managers, green power technicians and green builders.

At the same time, the Department of Energy has set aside $54 million for Delaware in stimulus funding for weatherization, efficiency and conservation and the state's energy program.

State officials are planning to launch public awareness campaigns and augment existing financial incentives for consumers who go green.

"To be successful, the programs kind of have to advance simultaneously," said Collin O'Mara, secretary of natural resources and environmental control. "We believe energy efficiency is the biggest market and also where we have a lot of stimulus dollars."

The training efforts are starting small, with a new 52-hour certificate program that DelTech will offer in October to train certified energy auditors, which are consultants that work with consumers to identify ways to make their homes more efficient. The program begins this month.

Within the next several years, however, DelTech hopes to launch programs to train technicians to install, operate and maintain solar- and wind-energy systems.

"It's kind of a chicken-and-egg dilemma," Smith said. "We want to be ready when the jobs are ready but we don't want to be too far ahead because we don't want the students to be trained and not have the jobs here."

Jason Wardrup, a certified energy auditor for Brightfields Inc., a Wilmington environmental consulting company, took part in an earlier auditor training program.

"There's not that many auditors in the state right now, not too many people at all that do this, but we're trying to get the work force trained up now to meet the demand as it rises."

Davis, president of CMI Electric, currently has to send new employees as far away as Colorado, Florida and California to be trained to work with solar-panel systems. Finding a worker locally who already has the specialized training is "very unusual," he said, but many different types of workers can be retrained to do the job.

To train someone to design a solar-panel system or to be a windsmith will require millions of dollars of investment in specialized labs and equipment. For example, Smith said, DelTech needs to buy a nacelle, or the operations unit that holds a wind turbine's generator, gearbox and control system.

Any day now, Owens campus director Ileana Smith will hear whether the federal Economic Development Administration is awarding the school $800,000 to build "Energy House," a 3,052-square-foot green technology lab and classroom building, in Georgetown.

Intended to look like a home, the structure will be designed to LEED standards and include a geothermal heat pump, a "green" roof and wind and solar equipment for use by students. The house design was chosen so the structure can also be used for public tours to give homeowners an idea of what a renewable-energy system might look like and how they work.

Delaware ranked last in the nation in renewable-energy production in 2006; less than 0.05 percent of energy in that year came from renewable sources, according to a report from Gov. Jack Markell's Energy Advisory Council. But the state has passed a law mandating that by 2019, 20 percent of Delmarva Power's electricity supply must come from renewable sources.

Delaware needs to move fast, because other states also are trying to establish themselves as leaders in green technology.

"It's early on, but we're all sort of preparing for this crush," Bowman said. But when stimulus money "starts to flow, we need to get busy in a hurry, because there's an 18-month burn rate and it's gone. Everybody is cautious in overinvesting in any kind of development before it flows, but at the same time, we want to be ready when it does."


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