Grand Marais & Cook County

Expanding qualified solar installers in Northeast Minnesota

Solar workforce training for local electricians

Solar Workforce Training

 

The City of Grand Marais and Cook County Local Energy Project recently recruited five local electricians to participate in a solar installer certification program to expand the region's clean energy workforce.

We connected with project leads Shane Steele, sustainability coordinator with the City of Grand Marais, and Jessy Carlson, coordinator of the Cook County Local Energy Project, as well as participant Shem Foster to learn more about this unique clean energy workforce training effort.

Supported by a CERT Seed Grant and the Carolyn Foundation, the training program increased the number of qualified local solar installers in Northeast Minnesota to help "keep solar dollars in the local economy."

 

This project increased the number of qualified local installers to reduce the cost of labor for solar installations and keep solar dollars in our local economy.

Shane Steele, Sustainability Coordinator, City of Grand Marais

As demand for solar energy grows rapidly across Minnesota, workforce training and certification programs are expanding access to skilled labor and career opportunities that will help build the state’s clean energy future.

In Northeast Minnesota, the City of Grand Marais and Cook County Local Energy Project recruited five electricians from the area to participate in a solar installer certification program from the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA). The unique program shows how local governments can help grow their local, clean energy workforce.

Project team members Shane Steele, sustainability coordinator with the City of Grand Marais, and Jessy Carlson, coordinator of the Cook County Local Energy Project, organized the project. They recruited local electricians to enroll in the MREA Solar Training Academy with support from a Northeast CERT Seed Grant and the Carolyn Foundation.

 

It’s great to live in a place that supports sustainability and has a climate action plan. Now that we have the plan, we have to work out the specifics of how we are going to reach its goals.

Shane Steele, Sustainability Coordinator, City of Grand Marais

Keeping local sustainability in mind

Following pressure from a local youth organization, the City of Grand Marais adopted a Climate Inheritance Resolution in 2017 and began developing a Climate Action Plan that “significantly reduces Grand Marais’ greenhouse gas emissions to levels that would protect our community’s children and grandchildren from the risk of climate change.”

In an earlier interview, Steele, who was hired to advance the city’s climate action plan and sustainability efforts in 2018, described his motivations in this work advancing clean energy in the region.

“It’s great to live in a place that supports sustainability and has a climate action plan,” Steele said. “Now that we have the plan, we have to work out the specifics of how we are going to reach its goals.”

As Grand Marais has moved forward, the recent project to expand access to solar installation certification in the region helps lay the foundation for a growing, local clean energy economy.

“This project increased the number of qualified local installers to reduce the cost of labor for solar installations and keep solar dollars in our local economy,” Steele said.

 

Recruiting participants

In early 2021, Steele and Carlson worked together to advertise the solar installation training and certification opportunity in the community.

“It was described as a way for local electricians to broaden the scope of their business, as well as an opportunity for those who are interested in solar to invest in a qualified, local installer,” said Carlson.

The project recruited local electricians interested in clean energy and who had the capacity to participate in the program.

“Once we had a good understanding of which electricians were interested in expanding their business and which ones were simply too busy to take on any more, we knew who to target,” Carlson said.

The team took the time to call and discuss the project with everyone they identified who might be interested and were ultimately able to recruit and support five participants in the training.

We were able to absorb a lot of good information on PV [solar photovoltaic] systems site assessment, design, and installation. Overall, I think it is a valuable resource to offer the community.

Shem Foster, training participant and electrician, Peak Electric

Online and in-person solar training

The solar installation program led by MREA included both online coursework and an in-person hands-on training in Minneapolis in spring 2021, which included COVID-19 safety protocols. Shem Foster of Peak Electric and participant in the training described the online format as challenging at times but thought the instructors did a good job under the circumstances.

“We were able to absorb a lot of good information on PV [solar photovoltaic] systems site assessment, design, and installation,” Foster said. “Overall, I think it is a valuable resource to offer the community.”

He also spoke highly of the in-person workshop and having hands-on elements.

“It was great to meet some of the instructors as well as classmates, and actually building a small PV system was useful,” Foster said.

 

Next steps

As this initial solar training program now wraps up, Steele and Carlson plan to leverage lessons learned from this pilot project and will continue to support both solar development, clean energy and workforce training in the region.

“We plan to use our marketing channels to advertise these new solar installers, as well as the benefit of going solar in Cook County and the importance of investing in local businesses when choosing to go solar,” Steele said.

The team is also starting a similar project to help train HVAC contractors in installing cold climate air source heat pumps.

These efforts to advance skilled labor in both solar and energy efficiency help reduce the barriers to investing in local clean energy and strengthen Grand Marais and Cook County’s local economy, in the process.

Project Snapshot

 
  • Clean Energy Focus: Solar PV workforce training
  • Northeast CERT Seed Grant: $5,000
  • Total Project Cost: $9,000
  • Other Funds: Carolyn Foundation
  • Project Team: Shane Steele, City of Grand Marais, and Jessy Carlson, Cook County Local Energy Project
  • People Involved and Reached: 17
 
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