Union Contractors Power Local Solar Movement

If researchers are right, Chicagoans may find themselves sweating through more than 25 -- count 'em, 25 -- 100-plus-degree days per summer by 2035.

Traditional energy sources are not only a likely cause of global warming, but a growing burden on Chicago's aging infrastructure, which is among the reasons the Chicago chapter of the National Electrical Contractors’ Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers –Local 134 is spearheading an ambitious program to promote the use of solar energy.

The IBEW-NECA Technical Institute recently spearheaded the installation of solar paneling at Perspectives/ITT Math and Science Academy, a K-8 school located at 3663 S. Wabash. In addition to educating students, and reducing electrical loads, the project provided IBEW members with the hands-on experience they need for certification in photovoltaics, an emerging discipline among electrical contractors, according to Kevin Lynch, electrical program coordinator with the IBEW-NECA Technical Institute in Alsip.

The institute is the go-to place for Chicago-area building owners seeking alternative energy sources, as well as union contractors seeking instruction on the subject. The institute not only offers a pair of courses on solar energy, Photovolatics I and II, but sends participating contractors into the field to apply what they've learned on projects such as the Math and Science Academy.

It's a win for the city, the environment, and union contractors and electricians, according to Harry Ohde, an institute instructor who developed the two courses and organized the academy installation last spring.

Rather than roof-mounted panels, the academy features wall-mounted ones so that students can get a glimpse of solar technology in action. Fixtures inside the school employ compact fluorescent bulbs rather than traditional incandescents, shedding additional light on what students can expect of their energy sources in the future.

Funds to further Chicago's transformation from an electricity- to solar-powered city have slowed somewhat, but Lynch says federal stimulus funds should help power one of the institute's biggest projects to date: a 10 megawatt installation for Com Ed.

That's right, even Com Ed understands the urgency.