Likely, he's been aware of the project ever since somebody mentioned it over coffee during the planning stages. Knowing about solar is one of his chief directives.
Graduates of Visalia, Calif.-based Proteus Inc.'s solar training program depend on his connection with the fledgling clean energy industry for potential jobs. In the past year, about 175 students from the economically battered Valley have completed the Solar Photovoltaic Design & Installation program, learning everything from hands-on technique to theory.
One thing Uriarte has found is that finding jobs -- at least at this point in the industry's evolution -- is far from simple. About 65 percent of his graduates have found work in the field. He'd like, of course, to make that 100 percent.
But "we're working with an emerging market that hasn't emerged," he said.
Companies have big plans in the Valley, with anecdotal evidence of at least several dozen projects of multiple sizes. So far though, most of the large-scale commercial solar installations remain on paper.
One of the larger is a 400 megawatt array just east of Interstate 5 near Tranquillity in Fresno County that would be built in phases, and could contain up to 2.5 million solar panels sprawled over 3,500 acres, according to a Sandy Nax post. Another, a proposed western Kern County project, is on land that couldn't be farmed from lack of water.
The latter project won the approval of the Bakersfield Californian editorial staff, who wrote, "It's welcome news that Kern County supervisors have given their blessing to a 6,047-acre solar project between Taft and Interstate 5. The 700-megawatt project positions photovoltaic solar panels on 4,868 acres."
That means jobs. But forecast construction remains more than a year on the part of the Tranquility project, proposed by San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy.
In the meantime, a trained work force is under its own form of construction. Uriarte says the graduates of the Proteus program land a job at the low end of the skill spectrum, usually as installers on small crews of four or five people.
Big projects require multiple crews. Crew members have varying degrees of skill and status within the company. Uriarte says the more work, the more experience and the greater the opportunity for advancement within the industry.
Many future solar projects in the commercial spectrum may be for specific needs. For instance, the city of Atwater, Calif. was considering a solar array to defray the massive costs devoured during the summer season by water pumps. Solar at the site could drastically cut electricity bills.
Other cities and counties may consider going the route. The California Energy Commission is developing a potential new program that would provide local governments with planning and permitting assistance for renewable energy. Dubbed RP3, the idea won the support of the group, Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, which has as one of its directors Larry Alder of Google Inc.
Russell Hancock, president and CEO of Joint Venture, said the program "has the potential to have a measurable impact."
Solar is coming. When remains a big question as does how. Al Weinrub, who has penned "Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California," believes that businesses should -- and likely will -- yield their rooftops to solar panels to defray energy costs.
Talking to Proteus Inc.'s solar instructor Rick Gonzales recently, it was hard not to feel optimistic. The former human resources executive exudes positive vibes and believes in what he teaches.
He's passing that onto his students. And if they absorb just 15 percent of that (about the amount of energy a solar module absorbs from the sun), the San Joaquin Valley will definitely be worthy of the University of California, Merced's designation of a "solar valley."
Photo: Proteus Inc. students learn the craft.