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Miners new solar employment

Solar Panels

Morgantown – In Central Appalachia there has been a group dedicated to creating alternative energy jobs in the area. It is a building first for the West Virginia southern coalfields region – rooftop solar panels, put together by the unemployed and underemployed coal miners and contractors of the region.

The set of rooftop solar panels are 40 x 15-foot asnd are being placed in a doctor’s office in Williamson. This provides an opportunity other than mining for the coalfields region.

At first the people were sceptical when the idea was first discussed a year ago, says Nick Getzen, spokesman for The Jobs Project, which is trying to create renewable energy job opportunities in West Virginia and Kentucky. In the southern coalfields, he says, people have only ever gotten electricity one way – from coal-fired power plants.

“This is the first sign for a lot of folks that this is real, and that it’s real technology, and they can have it in their communities,” Getzen says. “In no way are we against coal or trying to replace coal. There’s still going to be coal mining here. This is just something else to help the economy.”

The Jobs Project and a solar energy company from the Eastern Panhandle, Mountain View Solar & Wind of Berkeley Springs, teamed up about a year ago, with the intention to develop a privately funded job-training program.  12 trainees are earning $45 an hour for three days of work, while some local laborers are earning $10 an hour helping out.

Mountain View owner Mike McKechnie is also buying all his electrical supplies from a local business.

“We are not funded by any state organization. We’re doing this as a business because we want to grow the solar infrastructure and industry,” McKechnie says. “We’re West Virginians, and we think it’s important. There’s a need here that’s not being met.”

Demand for solar energy has been growing in West Virginia, and McKechnie’s company has been expanding with it. Mountain View has tripled in size two years in a row and is likely to do the same in 2011. It now employs 15 full-time workers, five part-timers and a network of about a dozen electricians, plumbers, roofers and general contractors who do installations when McKechnie calls.

“This training model we’re unleashing in Williamson is something we’ve proven,” McKechnie says. “It’s not a pilot project. It’s something we’ve shown works.”

original article from Huffington Post rewritten

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