It looks like President Trump has some ‘splaining to do. After successfully appealing to military veterans on the campaign trail, the new Commander-in-Chief hasn’t exactly been doing them any favors during his first week in office. To take just one example, the massive cuts planned for the Department of Energy could pull the rug out from under the agency’s popular SunShot Solar Ready Vets job training program.
If SunShot has been ringing your bell in the last couple of days, that’s probably because the Intertubes went into full hair on fire mode when word spread that the staff of the department has been ordered not to share their work on social media. Reportedly the blackout applies to private accounts as well as the Energy Department’s @ENERGY Twitter and other social media throughout the division that includes SunShot, the Office of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.
What Is This SunShot Of Which You Speak?
For those of you new to the topic, SunShot was authorized with bipartisan support during the Bush Administration as part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, but it didn’t kick in with funding until former President Obama made it the showcase for collaborative public-private clean power programs aimed at reducing the cost of solar power down to parity with fossil fuels.
The benchmark was $1.00 per Watt by 2020, and this week our friends over at GreenTech Media reported that goal has already been achieved — three years early — in the utility scale solar sector.
That’s a stunning success, considering that utility scale solar was hovering around the $4.00 range as recently as 2011.
To be clear, according to GreenTech analyst Ben Gallagher, the Energy Department’s highly successful Loans Program Office can probably take most of the direct credit for the price drop, and those folks would most likely agree. However, SunShot helped to set the table:
…Gallagher emphasized that the signals, monetary and otherwise, that SunShot sent to investors and entrepreneurs “made the market more efficient.” He said that SunShot helped accelerate this industry and allowed vendors and customers to be able to tolerate a bit more risk.
From Warfighters To Climate Change Fighters
“Accelerate this industry” sure sounds like jobs, jobs and more jobs. In fact, the solar industry has become a job-creating machine, especially for veterans who have already developed technical skills that transfer to solar work (the energy efficiency jobs are also booming but that’s a whole ‘nother story).
Here’s the Energy Department enthusing over the potentials for veterans employment:
Employment in the U.S. solar industry increased 123% since 2010, and veterans are strong candidates to fill solar positions because they are disciplined, motivated, and technically savvy.
It’s also notable that many veterans are already familiar with solar power in many forms, from utility scale on over to transportable PV systems and lightweight, wearable solar devices.
That brings us to the Solar Ready Vets job training program. It comes under the “soft costs” part of the SunShot mission, the idea being that an ample, properly trained workforce translates into high productivity. The program covers all aspects of the industry, from managerial to installation, sales, and inspections.
Solar Ready Vets stands out because, instead of waiting for active military to separate from active duty and then pound the pavement looking for work as unemployed veterans, the program kicks in while they are still in “transitioning” status.
The program launched in 2014 at five military facilities as a pilot program, with a goal of training and certifying 75,000 transitioning military for solar jobs by 2020. Here’s the set-up:
The Solar Ready Vets training program is based on the specific needs of high-growth solar employers and is tailored to build on the technical skills that veterans have acquired through their service…Programs include hands-on instruction that takes place in a classroom setting, though some cohorts have a hybrid format of online and in-person classes. There is no out-of-pocket cost to the service member or the military base.
Solar Ready Vets has already expanded to include 10 facilities in all, and it is ready to receive applications from additional bases through SunShot’s partner in the initiative, the Solar Foundation.
Here’s the pitch from the Energy Department:
According to The Solar Foundation, there are 16,835 U.S. veterans working at solar establishments across the United States, exceeding the percentage of veterans in the broader U.S. workforce. As the more than 190,000 veterans who will be leaving the U.S. military each year for the next several years transition to civilian life, Solar Ready Vets provides a way for veterans to continue serving our country by helping to build a clean energy economy.
No word yet on whether or not Solar Ready Vets will continue if SunShot gets the axe.
Tune into VoteVets for more on that.
Image (screenshot): YouTube via US Department of Energy.