Solar jobs come to San Joaquin Valley

Clean energy is making an economic mark in the San Joaquin Valley.


The Green Report, issued by Proteus Inc., a nonprofit that provides community work force training and other services based in Visalia, Calif., lists a projected job forecast of 12,125 jobs related to construction of solar facilities.

"With the amount of new solar companies looking at the Central Valley to implement utility-sized photovoltaic installations in the double digits, the future looks bright for solar installation and employment," writes the report's author, Hector Uriarte Jr., who heads up the Proteus solar training program.

Solar projects planned

Solar is definitely coming. The California Public Utilities Commission lists 46 small to medium sized projects on its "on schedule" list for the state. More are sure to be added.

And there are, according to the California Department of Fish and Game, 93 proposed solar projects planned on 64,000 Valley acres that have no environmental conflicts and can proceed without opposition.

MID gives to UC Solar

Economic effects go beyond simple solar installations. The Merced Irrigation District has committed $10,000 to the University of California Merced's Advanced Solar Technologies Institute.

Also known as UC Solar, the institute involves other UC campuses and is "dedicated to designing and developing innovative solar energy generation technologies that are more efficient, more affordable."

MID General Manager John Sweigard tells the Merced Sun-Star that his utility is committed to the development of clean energy and that UC Solar "appears to be heading in the right direction."

Training program gears up

Proteus is one of the organizations gearing up to meet expected work force needs. The nonprofit operates a solar training program and has worked with many of the companies in the region to find its graduates jobs. Some of those include: Eurus Energy through subsidiary Avenal Solar Holdings LLC and its employment agency Aerotek, Sundowner Solar, Unlimited Energy,  Velocity Energy Partners and Altsys Solar.

The Green Report projects activity by the following companies:
  • Solar Project Solutions: Plans 130 megawatts of solar installations for about 650 jobs.
  • NorthLight Power: 60 mw, about 300 jobs.
  • Beacon Solar LLC: 250 mw, about 1,250 jobs.
  • SolarGen USA: 1,000 mw, about 5,000 jobs.
  • DTE Energy: 20 mw, about 100 jobs.
  • Recurrent Energy: 80 mw, about 400 jobs.
  • Canergy: 500 mw, about 2,500 jobs.
  • NRG Solar LLC: 105 mw, about 525 jobs.
  • Meridian Energy: 60 mw, about 300 jobs.
  • Westland Solar Farms LLC, 220 mw, about 1,100 jobs.
Uriarte's report says another driving force in solar growth has come from municipalities installing photovoltaics at their water or waste water operations. These installations are often 1 or 2 megawatts and offset the high electricity costs of running pumps.

For instance, a 45 megawatt plant just opened in Avenal in PG&E territory. And more are coming. The community of Corcoran plans to lease land for a 15 megawatt plant near its waste water treatment plant, for example.

2011 survey of solar work force trends by San Jose State University and SolarTech found that 56 percent of the 32 installers interviewed planned to add workers.

Solar installation is construction work

The work is relatively low tech. But development of any kind creates economic activity and other jobs.

David Castillo, director of Westside Institute of Technology, which is a part of West Hills Community College District in Coalinga, believes the basics will be in high demand as clean energy projects ramp up in the Valley. Castillo says solar installation jobs are temporary, lasting four months to a year at best and operations will need skilled people with a variety of certifiable talents, starting with forklift drivers, he says.

Materials will need to be delivered, stored and deployed for clean energy operations, just the same as any other construction project.

Yet, clean energy developments in the Valley go far beyond solar and include wind energy in the Sierra Mountains, especially around Tehachapi and to the east; biofuel development, using new source crops like camelina and algae and processes like cellulosic ethanol and isobutanol; methane digesters; and even growing distribution of fuel cells.

As Steve Geil, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. serving Fresno County, says, β€œThe Valley has the potential to be energy self-sufficient.”

Photo: Avenal solar facility courtesy Eurus Energy.