FAIRFIELD – Kennebec Valley Community College has hired a green-energy expert from Pittsfield to lead a new solar technology training program that will start in February.

The solar heating and cooling training initiative is one of nine such programs in the country funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

All program costs for the next five years are covered by a $3.3 million federal grant.

That includes paying Vaughn Woodruff to teach the course. Woodruff, who lives in Pittsfield, is the owner of Yankee Solutions, a company that installs solar thermal systems that use the sun’s energy to heat water in homes and businesses.

The program is for instructors from technical colleges and high schools throughout New England and New York to learn to install solar heating and cooling systems — and then incorporate what they learn into their curriculums.

The weeklong training sessions will be offered six times per year, said Dana Doran, director of energy programs at the college.

The classes will be taught in a new, state-of-the-art training lab in the Frye Building. The cost to create the lab was also covered by the grant.

Twelve students will be admitted to each class. Doran said he expects the application process to be competitive.

Though Woodruff lately has specialized in installing solar thermal systems, his background is in teaching.

“He’s very unique in terms of his experience,” Doran said.

Woodruff has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Maine and a master’s degree in education from Prescott College in Arizona. He has taught at all levels, from third grade to community college.

While living in Montana, he was the community development director for a nonprofit housing organization. Later, he started his installation business there. A year and a half ago he moved back to Maine, where he was raised, and brought his company with him.

Woodruff said he was afraid he’d have a hard time finding clients in his home state, but he’s been busy. And the demand for solar thermal systems is only going to increase with time, he said, and that’s why training people to install them is so critical.

In May, Woodruff installed two solar panels at Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta, working with students who are collecting data to determine how well the panels work.

Scott Phair, director of the technical center, said he’s not sure whether instructors there will apply for the training, but he plans to continue working with the community college on solar technology initiatives.

Before Woodruff retires, he hopes to see solar energy make the transition from an alternative technology to a conventional one. “That’s our goal,” he said.


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