Solar creates jobs in W. Virginia coal country

w-virginia-solar-coalOne of the criticisms of solar is that it threatens the jobs of those who work to mine coal. Solar supporters haven’t done much in the way of undertaking concrete action to undermine this claim — until now.

The Jobs Project, a group working to create alternative energy jobs in Central Appalachia, is installing a 40- by 15- foot rooftop solar array on a doctor’s office in the southern coalfields region of West Virginia.

Nick Getzen, a spokesman for the group, spoke of the symbolic importance of the array when he told Bloomberg News, “This is the first sign for a lot of folks that this is real, and that it’s real technology, and they can have it in their communities.”

The Jobs Project teamed up with Mountain View Solar & Wind, a solar energy company from the east coast, a year ago to create a privately funded job-training program devoted to expanding the solar infrastructure and industry.

Twelve trainees are making $45 an hour for three days, while local unemployed and underemployed coal miners and contractors and are earning $10 an hour to help assemble the array. Mountain View told Bloomberg that it hopes to train its employees to a point where they have developed the entrepreneurial skills needed to be self-employed, finding and closing sales leads.

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Mountain View has tripled in size for the past two years in a row in concordance with the growing demand for solar energy, and will likely do the same this year. The company now employs 15 full-time workers, five part-time workers, and nearly a dozen other electricians, plumbers, roofers, and general contractors.

The 12 trainees and three other Mountain View employees are also assessing seven other properties for solar energy with the hopes of finding more projects in the area.

The rooftop array costs $90,000 and will produce 11.7 kilowatts of electricity, reducing utility costs by 20%, which will reimburse the system in about seven years.

The Jobs Project is trying to find ways to initiate projects without upfront capital by seeking low-interest loans and federal tax credits and grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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