SOUTH PORTLAND – Learning how to install solar panels will soon be a required course in the electrical engineering technologies program at Southern Maine Community College.

The college has received a $70,000 federal grant to become an accredited training site in a national network of solar photovoltaic instructors.

It’s part of the college’s larger effort to become a regional model for sustainable practices and a center for renewable energy education in construction, heating, air-conditioning, refrigeration, plumbing and electrical engineering technologies.

Building weatherization will be a required course for construction technology students, and students in related fields will be encouraged to take an elective course on how to conduct home energy audits, said Kaylene Waindle, the college’s dean of advancement.

“We believe all of our graduates in construction-related fields need those skills if we’re going to change our energy future in Maine,” Waindle said. “We want our campus to be a living laboratory for sustainable energy practices.”

SMCC has been moving in that direction for a while. The college recently installed energy-efficient light fixtures and solar heat collectors in its automotive education building. In the spring, the college plans to open a sustainability center in the Tripp Building, a former heating and testing lab where all green-energy initiatives will be housed as a community resource.

“It’s a way we see the college contributing to the future of the state and fulfilling its mission to students,” Waindle said.

The college is funding its green-energy initiatives with about $600,000 in grants, including $375,000 from Efficiency Maine and more than $100,000 from the Maine State Housing Authority.

The latest $70,000 grant is part of more than $27 million that the U.S. departments of energy, labor and education are spending to create jobs and ensure quality work in the design, installation and inspection of solar energy systems. It includes $10 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Last year, Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield received $2.8 million to develop a nationally accepted training program for instructors in the field of solar heating and cooling technology across the Northeast. Those instructors will then be able to certify students to work in communities throughout the region.

SMCC received the $70,000 grant through Hudson Valley Community College in New York, which was awarded $3.5 million to establish a training program for solar photovoltaic instructors across the Northeast. Solar photovoltaic systems use cells to capture and convert the sun’s energy into electricity.

SMCC already provides some solar technology education in its renewable energy resources course, which started three years ago, said Jamie McGhee, an electrical engineering technologies instructor.

Starting next semester, the upper-level course will focus on solar photovoltaics. A 30-by-12-foot section of asphalt-shingled roof has been built at ground level so students can install, test and connect a solar photovoltaic system to the larger electrical grid.

“The majority of installations would be on this type of roof, so it will give them some real-world experience,” McGhee said.

The college will use the $70,000 to complete McGhee’s training as a certified instructor and receive curriculum accreditation from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners and the Institute for Sustainable Power.

It also will purchase solar panels and mounting systems from different manufacturers so students become familiar with various options and special equipment to measure solar availability and sun shading, McGhee said.

The use of solar technology is growing 30 percent annually worldwide, McGhee said, and Maine gets enough sun to make it worthwhile. Whether solar photovoltaic systems, which can cost $20,000 or more, become popular in Maine depends on the future availability of tax rebates and other incentives, McGhee said.

It also would help if Maine had variable electricity rates so property owners with photovoltaic systems could benefit from using little or no electricity during peak daylight hours, McGhee said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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