Opinion

Denver’s underprivileged see the light in Solar Training Academy

Author: Lucia Guzman - July 16, 2018 - Updated: July 15, 2018

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Lucia Guzman

As former Senate minority leader of the Colorado General Assembly, I’ve seen firsthand that when businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government come together, we can solve problems. That spirit of cooperation was on display at a recent event I attended at Denver-based Namaste Solar.

GRID Alternatives and the Denver Housing Authority, along with local energy businesses such as Namaste, have partnered to establish a Solar Training Academy to help meet the skilled employment demands of Colorado’s growing solar energy sector. Perhaps more importantly, they are recruiting talent from Denver’s underprivileged communities.

One out of every 50 jobs created nationally in 2016 was in the solar industry, according to The Solar Foundation’s Solar Jobs Census. In Colorado, over 700 new solar jobs were created in the state last year alone, with over 6,700 people now working in the state’s solar industry.

Despite these growing job opportunities in the solar industry, employers continue to struggle to find people with the necessary skills, experience, and certifications. GRID Alternatives, in partnership with Denver Housing Authority, is working to address these concerns directly through their Solar Training Academy.

The Solar Training Academy is recruiting students and providing them with the necessary training to help close the employment gap. With a combination of classroom and hands-on training, this program provides hard skills, soft skills, industry-recognized certifications, networking and job readiness, all of which combine to make these students eligible for solar employment. Participants who complete the program are equipped with the necessary solar and construction industry certifications to get a job in one of Colorado’s fastest growing industries.

The program has produced 26 graduates since it started in early 2017 and most of have gone on to work in the field.

What makes this program particularly unique is that many of the students are recruited from Denver’s underprivileged communities through the Denver Housing Authority. The program is serving as a lifeline into a well-paid career path for students lacking college degrees.

Many of the students I spoke with expressed interest in this sector not only out of a desire to help human health and the environment by providing clean energy, but also as a way to help reduce energy costs for the lower income communities they grew up in. By helping install community solar gardens and residential rooftop solar, they know they are helping communities that struggle to pay their electric bills every month. And as the cost of solar continues to drop, these projects are benefitting more Coloradans around the state.

Much of this is made possible through state and federal incentive programs that offset the capital costs associated with initial solar installation. As these federal incentives begin to wind down, this should be a policy area where the Colorado General Assembly can play a role.

Solar installer is projected as the fastest growing job category in the nation through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Colorado should take a hard look at how will continue to play a leadership role in renewable energy in the years ahead. Providing increased incentives for these types of job training opportunities in the solar and renewable energy industry is one option that we should continue to explore.

Solar and wind energy development are the future for our nation’s domestic energy development and our state leaders should continue to prioritize making these jobs more accessible to Coloradans from every walk of life.

Lucia Guzman

Lucia Guzman

Lucia Guzman, a Denver Democrat representing Senate District 34, is former state Senate minority leader.