LEBANON, VA – JANUARY 11, 2022 —  Up to 84 full-time jobs in the field of solar energy are projected to be created through the new Solar Workforce Accelerator program being funded by an up to $225,000 grant recently approved by the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) through its Renewable Energy Fund. The funds will be used to establish a joint solar education program being developed by Southwest Virginia Community College and Mountain Empire Community College.

The VCEDA funds will be used for workforce development and training, course materials, tuition, books and the purchase of equipment. Through the program, students will be trained and placed in paid internships.

Together, SWCC and MECC cover all of the counties and one city served by VCEDA, with SWCC primarily serving Buchanan, Tazewell, and Russell counties and portions of Dickenson County and MECC primarily serving the City of Norton and Lee, Scott, and Wise counties and portions of Dickenson County. The two community colleges joined forces to establish the Southwest Virginia Solar Workforce Accelerator.

“VCEDA is pleased to assist in helping to fund the development of the Solar Workforce Accelerator,” said VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher. “Energy has always been a key industry in our region and this project will position our workforce in the area to be ready as solar energy grows in the future. It marks another project the newly created VCEDA Renewable Energy Fund has helped to grow in the e-Region.”

According to the joint application, the objective of the Solar Accelerator is to create a solar workforce training pipeline in the VCEDA service region by establishing a dual-track solar credentialing and internship program for SWCC and MECC students and local workers. 

Coursework will take place at the community colleges and interns will be placed on the crews of commercial and institutional solar developers completing Appalachian Solar Finance Fund-supported solar installations in the VCEDA region. 

The VCEDA funds will ensure the development of a sustained local workforce by providing industry-standard certifications and on-the-job training at local solar projects throughout the region, some of which are already under contract, resulting in long-term and well-paying jobs in this new and rapidly growing energy market.

“Renewable energy is more than an idea for the future; it’s here, it’s happening now,” said Dr. Tommy Wright, SWCC president. ”VCEDA’s grant for the Southwest Virginia Solar Workforce Accelerator will facilitate a pathway for our students and community to engage with the solar energy industry in our region. We’ll be providing training and real-world experience for students in all aspects of solar energy production, including participating in a complete solar installation for our student housing development.”

“MECC is appreciative of the training funds provided by VCEDA to assist our region’s future solar workforce in preparation for exciting solar projects planned for Southwest Virginia,” said Dr. Kristen Westover, MECC president.

It is estimated that in the course of three years, at least six cohorts of eight to 15 students (three cohorts per community college) will complete a seven-day course that will include OSHA certification and solar installation SHINE credentialing.  These and other existing and recently graduated community college students and local workers will be placed in paid internships with local and regional solar companies completing Appalachian Solar Finance Fund approved solar installations in the VCEDA footprint. 

The Appalachian Solar Finance Fund is a regional effort led by Appalachian Voices.

“Southwest is so appreciative of VCEDA’s support in this partnership to increase solar initiatives in our region,” said Susan Lowe, SWCC vice president of institutional advancement and executive director of SWCC’s educational foundation.

“Mountain Empire Community College has enjoyed a long, successful partnership with VCEDA in training individuals for careers in our region,” said Dr. Amy Greear, MECC vice president of institutional advancement. “We are excited for this partnership  to expand solar training and installation in our region.”

Based on a completed market analysis, according to the application, it is estimated VCEDA’s funds will help to directly support 19 commercial and institutional solar projects in Southwest Virginia, create 84 new jobs, attract $2.4 million in private investment and generate $1.6 million in energy cost savings.  VCEDA’s funding will be leveraged by $1.5 million in Appalachian Regional Commission POWER funding and additional funds approved for the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund.

About Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and Southwest Virginia’s e-Region: The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to enhance and diversify the region’s economy and help create jobs, markets Southwest Virginia’s e-Region and its focus on electronic information technology, energy, education, emerging technologies, and entrepreneurship. VCEDA is a unique economic development organization that manages funds for economic development projects from a percentage of the coal and natural gas severance taxes paid by coal and natural gas companies that operate in the region. Located in southwestern Virginia, the region includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton. www.vceda.us or www.e-Region.org.