Obama vows to train 75K solar workers by 2020 

Source: Katherine Ling, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 6, 2015

The White House today launched an initiative to provide military veterans with skills to join the solar industry as part of an overall goal of training 75,000 solar workers by 2020 — a 50 percent increase from a target set by the Energy Department a year ago.

President Obama in a speech later today at the Hill Air Force Base in Utah will unveil an expansion of DOE’s veteran solar training program to 10 military bases, starting with the Hill Air Force Base this fall.

The training program supported by DOE in partnership with the Department of Defense is based off three successful pilot programs at Camp Pendleton in California, Fort Carson in Colorado and Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia started last year.

The solar job training program for veterans and other “workers from all parts of life” is part of Obama’s commitment to curb carbon emissions while spurring the U.S. economy and job opportunities through his Climate Action Plan, said Dan Utech, Obama’s deputy special assistant for energy and climate change, during a press call in advance of the announcement.

Having a strong solar industry and workforce will help the United States meet its target to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, which the president submitted to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change earlier this week, Utech said.

The veteran training program provides active-duty military personnel with four to six weeks of free solar training shortly before their transition to civilian life as part of DOE’s SunShot solar instructor training network.

DOE has invested $27 million in the program over the past six years, which includes more than 400 community colleges and other technical training centers across the country, DOE said. It has trained 30,000 students so far with a focus on youth, adult career transitions and veterans, DOE said.

The Department of Veteran Affairs is also working on authorizing veterans to use their GI Bill benefits to participate in solar job-training programs at community colleges, the White House said.

The solar industry now employs about 174,000 workers, and nearly 17,000 veterans were employed by solar companies in 2014, according to the Solar Foundation. Over the next 12 months, the Solar Foundation said total employment in the solar industry should increase by 21 percent to 210,060 based on employer surveys.

All 20 veterans who participated in the first class at Camp Pendleton were offered employment upon exiting the military, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, deputy secretary of Energy, said on a press call. The jobs were all offered by residential solar leasing and installation company Vivint Solar, according to a company announcement in February.

DOE has commitments from the nation’s five largest solar companies including Vivint Solar, SolarCity, Sunrun and SunEdison to interview all trainees in the ongoing pilot programs, and DOE is in the process of securing commitments from the companies for the expanded program, Sherwood-Randall said. The next six locations for the veteran training program will be based on the number of exiting personnel, the strength of the solar industry in the area, and nearby community college and training support, she said.

Given DOD’s commitment to deploy 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on its installations by 2025, many of these veterans may end up back on base in their new solar jobs, Sherwood-Randall added.

Despite solar’s robust growth in the past few years, there are concerns about its future gains with the industry’s investment tax credit set to drop from 30 percent to 10 percent in 2017 for commercial projects and expire completely for residential installations, and current trade issues with China. A survey of companies by the Solar Foundation said almost two-thirds of the companies expect to lay off staff or contractors if the ITC changes take effect at the end of 2016.

But the White House has confidence in its ability to reach the new goal to train 75,000 workers, Utech said.

“The solar future is bright and demand for the training programs will be strong,” driven by efforts to cut carbon emissions and as costs continue to drop, he said.

Utech and Sherwood-Randall did not have details on how much the training programs will cost in total or for each veteran trained.

DOE is now evaluating what it will cost to replicate the pilot programs at other bases, but the costs should go down as more p