San Diego based Solar Alliance Energy plans to build a 500 kW community solar generation and battery storage project in Southern Illinois. The plan is to identify a site for the project and sign a power purchase agreement with a local utility in 2017, then start construction and complete it within 18 months after that. The company says the project will include a workforce redevelopment program to provide skills training and jobs to 30 unemployed or underemployed coal industry workers.
Solar Alliance CFO Eric Knutzen has family roots in Southern Illinois. During a company brainstorming session, he raised his hand to suggest the company look at the southern Illinois area. “We said, what can we do to get into an area that maybe has high electric rates and also displaced workers? I sort of raised my hand and said, ‘Well, I definitely know where there’s some displaced coal workers, underemployed at minimum, if not unemployed — I mean, my mom’s house is even built on top of a coal mine,’”Knutzen says.
He says the project will address several issues that are inter-related. “What I’ve seen is the need for a transition to other skill sets, and there is, as you know, a big transition energy-wise to find solutions that save everyone money and address the issues in hand of greenhouse gases, and the use of a fuel or a source of energy that we can count on over the long term, and not just temporarily. Solar is one of those long-term solutions.”
The project will provide power to both residential and commercial customers, Knutzen says. “I think all of us want our electric bills on a monthly basis to go down,” he suggests.
700 Illinois coal industry workers lost their jobs in 2015, according to a company press release announcing the new project. Underemployed coal sector workers will be recruited for the project through local job placement agencies, advertising and industry outreach.
“The skill sets that are available in training for installation and so forth are there, they just have to be applied there in Southern Illinois to help people transition over to something that we know the residential and commercial users of electricity are looking at right now,” says Knutzen.
Unlike Donald Trump, who advocates for using more coal in America, Eric Knutzen is smart enough to recognize that America needs to move forward with renewable energy solutions. Job retraining programs are a necessary component of adapting to technological changes.
Conestoga wagon builders had to find other means of employment after the market for prairie schooners dried up. One of the beneficial uses for revenue generated by a carbon fee would be funding job training programs for workers disadvantaged by the loss of jobs in one industry so they can find work in another.
Solar Alliance Energy is taking a small step in the right direction by addressing the plight of unemployed coal workers and teaching them the skills they will need to be successful in the coming age of renewable power.
Source and photo credit: The Southern Illinoisan