WISE, VA – JUNE 21, 2023 Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) will continue to develop its Solar Workforce Accelerator Program due in part to an up to a $117,150 grant recently approved by the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) for the MECC Foundation.

MECC previously applied jointly with Southwest Virginia Community College (SWCC) to develop the program which focuses on workforce development and training in the solar field. Through the program, students are trained and placed in paid internships. MECC recently applied to VCEDA for a second round of funding to be used to continue to grow the MECC program after a successful start to the program in 2022.

Based on a completed market analysis, 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 through the program.

“VCEDA is pleased to again assist in helping to fund the continued development of the Solar Workforce Accelerator project at Mountain Empire Community College,” said VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher. “MECC began to successfully implement the project last summer and is poised to grow it more this summer. Energy has always been a key industry in our region and this project will continue to position our workforce in the area to be ready as solar energy grows in the future.”

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 MECC and SWCC students and local workers. Coursework takes place at the community colleges and interns are placed on the crews of commercial and institutional solar developers completing Appalachian Solar Finance Fund-supported solar installations in the VCEDA region.  No residential solar installations are involved as part of the project. Funding for the project is from VCEDA’s Renewable Energy Fund.

The VCEDA funds are being used to fund 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 the solar energy market.

Through the first VCEDA grant awarded in 2022, the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund (SFF), led in the region by Appalachian Voices, collaborated with MECC and SWCC to develop and launch the Solar Accelerator program. The Southwest Virginia Solar Workforce Accelerator’s first 10-member cohort of apprentices at MECC helped to complete SFF-supported solar installations at public schools in Wise and Lee Counties in an eight-week period in the summer of 2022.  Each apprentice was compensated $17 per hour and was issued a set of tools and safety shoes. Each apprentice worked for 20-30 hours per week on average during the on-the-job training experience.

Each apprentice also earned nine stackable course credits at MECC. Two of the apprentices advanced to full-time employment with a local solar installation company contracted to complete these projects, while three others went on to pursue further education at MECC. 

It is estimated that in 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. 

The $117,150 in additional funds recently awarded to the MECC Foundation as a second-round funding request will continue to develop the solar accelerator program for students and workers going through the MECC program.

“Mountain Empire Community College and the MECC Foundation are grateful to VCEDA for funding to offer this unique career training opportunity in our region for a second year,” said Dr. Amy Greear, MECC vice president for institutional advancement. “The MECC-Appalachian Voices Solar Accelerator Project resulted in 10 students completing nationally certified curriculum in solar installation in the summer of 2022. We anticipate six students enrolling in the program this summer. This project not only benefits our region by training skilled workers in alternative and emerging energy technologies, but also supplies a pipeline of workers for ongoing solar energy installations in Wise and Lee County.”

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.