Green Energy Courses Empower Local Union Contractors

At long last, the green-energy movement may be gaining momentum, now that the Obama administration is harnessing renewable resources to help power the nation’s economic recovery. Among other incentives, a provision of Obama’s economic stimulus plan qualifies clean-energy suppliers for tax credits totaling 30 percent of project costs, providing the projects are undertaken this year.

The program — and others like it — could prove a boon to electrical contractors, assuming they’re qualified to work with alternative power sources. Many Chicago-area union members are as a result of training they’ve received from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers/NECATechnical Institute in Alsip.

Fact is, IBEW 134 has been involved in renewable-energy initiatives since the 1990s. Both the Technical Institute in Alsip and its Chicago headquarters are powered by photovoltaics. IBEW also has participated in the installation of 14 megawatts of green energy in Chicago’s Cook County.

Most importantly, it is using its expertise to educate local journeymen and contractors, many of whom are looking to expand their scope of expertise to better weather poor economic conditions.

Contractors and journeymen attend two courses, Photovoltaics I and II, both 13-week programs conducted during evening hours. While Photovoltaics I addresses the fundamentals of photovoltaic systems, including attendant building codes, Photovoltaics II “puts it all together and discusses the process of project commissioning,” says course instructor Harry Ohde.

Electricians not only hit the books, but local job sites as participants in a program to supply solar energy to Chicago-area schools. In addition to educating youngsters -- and reducing electrical loads -- the program provides contractors with the experience they require to receive certification in photovoltaics, according to Ohde. As a result of growing interest in renewable resources, IBEW also conducts Saturday seminars to provide contractors with a general overview of green-building technology. Unemployed journeymen have the option of attending the five-day course Introduction to Renewable Energy, which addresses solar- and wind-powered electricity, among other forms of clean energy.

While he acknowledges that local interest in green energy has ebbed and flowed, electrical programs coordinator Kevin Lynch believes the recent completion of a 10 megawatt photovoltaic plant for Commonwealth Edison marks a turning point for Chicago. "It’s the largest urban project to date," says Lynch, who points out that government grants and tax credits have begun to pave the way for similar undertakings. "For years, we all felt frustration that green energy wasn’t mainstream," he says. "All of that is about to change."