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Published: 6/25/2010

Owens expands training in solar, wind energy

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Parry Rentz, left, of Whitehouse and Mike Humphries of Shoup Solar Solutions carry a solar panel to the installers at a new solar array on the Owens Community College's Findlay campus. Parry Rentz, left, of Whitehouse and Mike Humphries of Shoup Solar Solutions carry a solar panel to the installers at a new solar array on the Owens Community College's Findlay campus.
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FINDLAY - Even before the new solar panels went up at Owens Community College's Findlay campus yesterday, people were looking forward to them being taken down.

Up, down. Up, down. Most places wouldn't be too excited about that happening with their new energy-producing devices. But Owens is just thrilled because, in its case, that's a sign of more students being retrained for an emerging line of work.

If America continues revamping its energy sector, more jobs should become available for installing solar panels, wind turbines, and other sources of renewable energy.

Owens is one of several area institutions retraining the region's idled work force, which includes people in electrical and construction trades and laid-off auto workers.

"The idea is to be ready," said Mark Herold, 57, of Whitehouse, one of 16 students in an Owens class of would-be installers helping Superior Energy Solutions LLC of Ottawa, Ohio, put up an eight-panel array of solar panels. It was the first for the Findlay campus. The main Owens campus in Perrysburg Township has its own solar array.

"I know there's a market in other parts of the country. I'd rather stay here," said Mr. Herold, a carpenter looking for work.

Same goes for Doug Woolard, 52, a former resident of Virginia and Washington state who has called South Toledo home since February, 2007.

Shortly after relocating to be with family members, his car was stolen. He said he has been struggling to find roof, masonry, or plumbing work, and he wants to learn the skill of installing solar panels to expand his versatility.

"If I can get employment here, I don't plan on leaving," he said, adding that the class for installing solar panels has "opened my eyes to a lot of things."

That's one of the goals of the retraining effort, supported by a $25,000 Ohio Department of Development grant, said Joe Peschel, programmer of customized training for Owens' work force and community services program.

The first commercial-scale wind turbine, a 33-foot-tall device, is to be installed on the Perrysburg Township campus by July 4, next to the solar panels. The wind turbine and the solar panels are to be dismantled and reassembled by future classes.

Both installations will be recognized at a public ribbon-cutting at 10:30 a.m. July 8.

Together, the devices may not even generate 1 percent of the campus' electrical needs, Mr. Peschel said.

Generating electricity is a secondary consideration to helping displaced students re-enter the work force.

"The main focus is training," Mike Bankey, Owens vice president of work force and community services, said. "The additional bonus is the wind and sun will help offset our electrical bills."

Owens has retrained 250 northwest Ohio residents as solar installers since creating its program six years ago, he said.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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