Paonia holds nation’s largest solar training

Local News

Proportionally, the solar industry has been the fastest growing industry in the nation, growing 178% since 2010. It’s a giant workforce that needs to be trained and the largest training facility,  in Paonia, Colorado. 

A quiet little town of one thousand,
“Since our founding in 1991, we’ve trained about 45,000 people from around the world,” said Katheryn Swartz, the executive director for Solar Energy International.
Is getting ready for a boom.
“The solar job market has been exponential in its growth where there’s over 200,000 people employed in the solar industry.” said Swartz.
In a the mountain town of one thousand, the effects of a struggling industry spawned the need for new roots.
“We we’re really interested, given the coal mining decline, what could we do, given the fact the solar industry has been thriving at an national and international level, what could we do to use that as an agent for change in this valley.” said Gerald Espinosa, the program coordinator for SEI’s economic revitalization.
Hundreds have been laid off in the North Fork Valley mining industry (2500 workers) in the past five years, and solar has now doubled that industries workforce (5000 solar workers).
“I was a student here 17 years ago. Back when I started, a lot of people in class were homeowners and people who were interested in solar and a few people like myself intended to make this a professional career. Now, the vast majority of our students are career oriented.” said SEI’s technical director, Kris Sutton.
Nearly 60% of the industries jobs come from installation and most of them come from the thousands that SEI train each year.
“What we’re doing here in Delta County is were helping to transition the economy so for example the two things that we’re doing is driving economic development through solar as well as helping train the workforce.” said Swartz.
Although, as much as Katherine or the county would like to, hurdles of old times still stand in the way 
“There is a battle between Tri-State and the local DMEA over the right to produce local energy and programs such as that are really preventing these cooperatives from accessing cost effective local energy solutions.” said Espinosa.
Seven cents of the 10 made per kilowatt hour Tri-state takes with them, and SEI says that it takes $42 million out of the local economy.
Currently, almost 209,000 people are employed by the solar industry. That’s number is expected to double in the next 4 years, with a projected 420 thousand jobs by 2020.

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