Maine’s opportunities in energy education

Rick Harbison

September 10th, 2010 · Filed under: Education, Energy Issues, Maine's green energy potential · 2 Comments

Heat being lost from a house that needs weatherization
The green economy is rapidly expanding and evolving nationwide and its potential to replace lost jobs, reinvigorate the economy and positively affect the environment is touted by politicians and policymakers alike. In recent years, national and state policymakers have set aside a substantial amount of resources to bolster the green economy and mobilize a green workforce. In Maine, a number of organizations across the workforce development spectrum have responded by expanding their programs to incorporate green trainings in anticipation of the growing needs of the green economy. Although what is considered green, or not green, is open to interpretation, in large part these trainings are centered on renewable energy technology, energy efficiency and green construction.

The first place to observe changes is the backbone of the state’s career ladder, Maine’s network of Career and Technical Education (CTE) centers and community colleges.

Promising Developments at the CTE Level—

In Maine, there are 27 CTE centers spread throughout the state. These centers provide hands-on technical education and career-focused programs to high school age students as a supplement to traditional high school academics. On average, CTE centers in Maine serve about 7,000 students each year and offer a range of programs from construction and building trades to culinary arts. These programs often provide valuable industry-recognized certifications and many can be put towards college credit.

The administrative body of the CTE network in Maine has recently tasked its education consultant to find ways to increase the green emphasis of CTE programs and identify which programs currently utilize green practices in their curriculums. Based on an informal survey of CTE directors, he estimates 40% of CTE programs have a green approach or utilize green practices in their curricula. A small number of CTE centers have even installed renewable energy systems (solar panels, solar thermal or small wind turbines) at or near their centers and are incorporating these alternative energies into their programs. The following is a brief snapshot of promising developments underway at CTE centers throughout the state:

The Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta has installed small wind turbines at its center as well as two different types of solar thermal systems (flat panels and evacuated tubes). Students in the plumbing and heating program worked closely with local experts during the installation phases and will now collect data to compare monthly energy production for each renewable energy system. The data will be accessible to the community and is intended to provide accurate information on the cost effectiveness of these technologies.

The Foster Technology Center in Farmington offers a unique and innovative “Alternative Energy” program in which students draft a passive solar building, design and build solar cookers (a device for cooking that uses solar energy) and plan a solar project. The program also includes a home energy audit curriculum (taught by certified auditors), in which students conduct a home energy audit and execute the recommended improvements. The Foster Center also offers a “Composites” program where students learn how to “safely use and select composite materials to design, build and/or repair a variety of fiber reinforced projects.” Composite materials are the main technology of wind manufacturing and this type of course offered at the CTE level could play an important role in Maine’s effort to foster a wind component manufacturing industry.

The United Technologies Center in Bangor is working closely with a company in Vermont that manufactures Structured Insulated Panels (SIP). These are highly efficient building panels used in floors, walls and roofs for residential and light commercial applications. The center is incorporating the installation of these panels into its curriculum and is also working closely with UMaine’s composite and sensory programs to train with composite wood and learn how to use high tech sensors, which assess the structural integrity of buildings.

Promising Developments at the Community College Level—

The lion’s share of activity for green jobs training in Maine is occurring at the community college level. A general consensus exists among policymakers that the seven community colleges and nine off-campus centers are the most appropriate providers of technical training for the newly emerging skills and trades of the green economy. With the recent influx of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) funds, these colleges are beginning to receive generous grants from agencies such as the Departments of Energy and Labor, MaineHousing, Efficiency Maine Trust and the Maine Public Utilities Commission to update their programs and facilities.

The majority of green related programs offered at the community college level are centered on renewable energy, energy efficiency and building sciences. By all accounts, Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) has established itself as the hub of green technology programs and has provided invaluable consultation and outreach to other community colleges in the process of expanding their programs.

KVCC is currently developing an Energy Services and Technology Center, which will combine traditional energy programs with new programs in renewable technology and energy efficiency under one roof. The center is expected to be fully operational in 2011 and will include a wind turbine and solar panels along with a host of other new technologies. KVCC is also regarded as the leading solar educator for the Northeast region and was recently awarded a generous grant by the Department of Energy, in partnership with the Department of Labor to develop the Northeast Solar Heating and Cooling Instructor Training Program. KVCC was selected as one of nine regional providers across the country to implement this train-the-trainer program.

Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) is also working rapidly to adapt to the changing workforce demands of the green economy. The college is making significant investments in sustainability measures across the campus and is establishing an energy center (known as the Sustainability and Energy Alternatives [SEA] Center). The center will be equipped with state-of-the-art training technology and will be an attractive location for homeowner workshops as well as field trips from local K-12 schools.

Another exciting development is the opening of SMCC’s Mid Coast Campus. Located at the Brunswick Naval Air Station, the campus is designed to be a “new model for higher education focusing on high-demand, high-growth fields of study that support economic development.” The campus will serve as a research and development hub and will advance the creation of wind turbine manufacturing in Maine with programs focused on composites, engineering, precision manufacturing and advanced energy technology.

Northern Maine Community College (NMCC) is well known for having the only Wind Power Technology degree program in New England. The college is also developing a curriculum in building sciences and is in the process of renovating a training facility to include a mock house for auditors-in-training to practice on. NMCC will also be strengthening its Transportation program by adding a course in Hybrid Vehicle Technology.

University of Maine (UMaine)—

UMaine’s most notable contribution to green job development in Maine is the work of its Advanced Structures and Composites Center, which has received generous support from stimulus funds and the Department of Energy. The center is currently constructing a 37,000 square foot offshore wind laboratory in which all structural components for floating wind turbines will be studied and tested, including wind blades, towers, anchors and foundation systems.

University of Southern Maine (USM) will begin to offer a curriculum in renewable energy this fall, thanks to a $175,000 National Science Foundation Grant. USM will use the three-year grant to develop a renewable energy curriculum that allows for classroom and field experience. Students will learn to map wind and solar resources in southern Maine, test energy efficiency and study the production and testing of more sustainable biofuels. UMaine’s Oceanography and Mechanical Engineering programs are also working closely with tidal energy developers to investigate the environmental impacts and economic feasibility of this newly emerging renewable energy technology.

Additionally, UMaine’s Cooperative Extension program, with 16 offices throughout the state, provides classes, workshops and instructional materials to the general public on a variety of green related subject matters, including: Agriculture, Business and Community, Energy Efficiency, Food and Health, Gardening and Horticulture, Natural Resources and Pests and Plant Disease Management. The Cooperative Extension also boasts the award winning Maine Compost School. The Compost School provides training to people interested and/or involved with medium and large-scale composting operations.

Green Specific Programs—

Several programs have emerged in recent years, which provide training in green specific disciplines to displaced workers and at-risk youth populations. These programs include the Green Jobs Corps (spearheaded by Learning Works, a non-profit social service agency), and Pathways Out of Poverty (administered by the Eastern Maine Development Corporation).

Green Jobs Corps is an eight-week program, which is offered in the summer for young men and women ages 18-24 in the Augusta area. The program is in its second year and provides classroom training, industry certification and on-the-job experience to at-risk youth in green building, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The Eastern Maine Development Corporation received a $2.1 million Pathways Out of Poverty grant last year through the Department of Labor. The grant will fund the establishment of a green construction skills training program in the Bangor area for two years. The program, which caters primarily to dislocated and disadvantaged workers, will build seven energy efficient replacement homes for residents of Penobscot and Piscataquis counties and provide 105 participants with a degree or certificate, 90 of which are predicted to be placed in unsubsidized employment.

Unions and Trade Associations—

Despite recent budget shortfalls, both Maine chapters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW 567 in Lewiston and IBEW 1253 in Fairfield) are committed to provide clean energy training to their members. IBEW 567’s JATC (Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee) training facility is one of Maine’s premier electrical education centers. The JATC is managed by a board comprised of business and labor representatives and has received acclaim for uniting stakeholders in a sector-based approach. The center currently offers courses in renewable energy technologies as well as building efficiency systems that utilize high tech computer software to allow the user to operate machinery more efficiently or automate building climate and energy use to minute details. IBEW 1253 also offers a number of building efficiency trainings, but was forced to put its renewable energy trainings on hold for lack of funding.

The Maine chapter of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA 716) has worked steadily to promote training in the various green developments associated with its trade. They offer a Green Systems Awareness Certification that covers topics such as energy efficiency, energy management, alternative energy, HVAC systems and plumbing. In addition, UA 716 has certified solar and green refrigeration instructors on staff for apprentice and journeymen to upgrade their training.

On the Job Training Programs—

The Department of Labor’s Pre-Apprentice and Apprentice programs are beginning to respond to the growing demand of the green sector. A Weatherization Technician program has been developed and approved that is currently being utilized by a company in southern Maine. The program is also working with the Green Jobs Corps (mentioned earlier) and has recently approved a Wind Turbine Technician program which will utilize NMCC’s wind technician courses to provide workers with related instruction while they are employed in the industry.

MaineHousing also offers a structured On-the-Job Training (OJT) program. The training occurs at MaineHousing job sites and is largely designed for women and minorities. OJT is essentially an apprenticeship program where MaineHousing provides wage support and reimburses the contractor for each trainee. Currently, there are approximately 15 trainees spread throughout the state and this number is expected to grow in upcoming months. MaineHousing has compiled a 50-page document of green standards for each new home it builds (i.e., any new home must have a solar thermal system, non-toxic paints, etc.), so trainees are ensured hands-on experience with green construction practices.

Improving the System—

As is evident, Maine’s workforce development system is expanding and evolving to include a range of new, green specific training programs. Despite the many promising developments underway, in many cases it seems the organizations involved in these efforts are operating independently from one another. Without improved communication or a general awareness of who is offering what throughout the state, it will be difficult to make efficient use of resources, prevent unneeded duplication of effort and accurately gauge demand for these services. In order to accommodate for fluctuating demand, Maine’s workforce development system must be responsive and able to adapt to changing market conditions. Despite these and other challenges, green jobs and the green economy represent real opportunities for the environment, people and economy of Maine. For these benefits to be realized, the state will need to continue to refine its workforce development system and actively stimulate demand by promoting the green sector and offering attractive, easy to understand incentives for consumers.

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