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Published: Tuesday, 3/9/2010

Local solar workers see bright future

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE PROJECTS EDITOR
A crew with Superior Energy Solutions of Ottawa, Ohio, gathers at a solar-powered energy system installed by the company. A crew with Superior Energy Solutions of Ottawa, Ohio, gathers at a solar-powered energy system installed by the company.
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Shortly after receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Toledo in December, Rosa Zartman accepted a job as a UT lab technician studying photovoltaics.

About three months after starting a business designing and installing wind and solar-powered systems, Dan Klear signed up for a photovoltaics design and installation course at Owens Community College.

Ms. Zartman, 22, and Mr. Klear, 57, both got what they wanted out of their very different educational experiences — employment working in the solar energy industry.

Ms. Zartman majored in physics at UT and was attracted to photovoltaics through her studies there.

Mr. Klear had already started his business before he signed up for training at Owens, but without that training he wouldn't have been able to actually do the job.

“I wanted to be knowledgeable in the field,” said Mr. Klear, a retired GM worker from Ottawa, Ohio.

He is the co-owner of a three-man company called Superior Energy Solutions.

“I wanted to be able to intelligently offer products and be able to put them together for our customers,” Mr. Klear said.

Ms. Zartman, of Fayette, Ohio, represents the faction of people in the solar industry who spent years in school studying so they can research and develop solar energy technology.

Recently she was measuring light being absorbed and transferred by solar panel samples with Brad Smith, 23, a senior at UT.

“It makes me feel really proud and it's amazing to see all that we achieve here,” Ms. Zartman said.

Mr. Klear is more representative of a different movement — a trend of blue-collar workers being retrained so they can make and install solar products. He is one of the 200 people who have enrolled in Owens' photovoltaics installation training program in the last six years.

Mike Bankey, vice president for work force and community services at Owens, said many of those who enroll in the week or two-week training programs are already employed.

Mr. Bankey said many of those enrollees either work for renewable energy companies or for other businesses that are interested in projects that involve those kinds of technologies.

“We are offering our PV [photovoltaics] training classes much more frequently now,” Mr. Bankey said.

“We might have three or four classes going on at the same time at different locations.”

Owens also now offers a solar production course as well as classes in wind, geothermal, and energy management.

Training in renewable energy manufacturing and installation has taken place on Owens' main campus in Perrysburg Township, at its Findlay campus, as well as in Fulton, Hancock, and elsewhere in Wood County.

In addition, Owens is currently training 36 individuals at The Source in Toledo with federal stimulus dollars.

Ohio recently received $6 million in stimulus funds to pay for companies to send their workers for renewable energy training, and the state also made such training a focus of its Ohio Workforce Guarantee program.

All with the hope that thousands of manufacturing and installation jobs in the solar industry will one day be available in Ohio.

“We're banking on serious growth,” Mr. Klear said. “We think in the next five to 10 years, solar will be picking up,” he said.



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