As President Obama continues to pound the pavement promoting his new jobs bill, Southwest Colorado Community College is taking on the task of job creation at a local level with a host of training programs in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Potential business opportunities in renewable energy are growing, so it made sense to focus job development there, said Teresa Malone, operations coordinator for the colleges west campus near Mancos that is offering the classes.
In terms of the direction of this region, it seems to be in green energy, so were helping fill that need for the training, she said.
The grant-sponsored, noncredit classes focus on commercial and residential energy auditing, air-leakage control, home heating systems and solar photovoltaic installation. Students tend to be workers looking to diversify the services their businesses offer or individuals looking to start a new business, Malone said. The end goal of the program is workforce development.
At this point, for example, there is only one professional commercial energy auditor in the region, and the colleges energy audit training is the first of its kind locally, Malone said. Also, the home weatherization and solar photovoltaic installation classes will give workers valuable national certifications that will help make them more marketable in the future, she said.
From an economic development perspective, a lack of workers skilled in green industries is a phenomena that faces businesses in many places, including La Plata County, said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata Economic Development Alliance. The reason is that the industry is so new, he said.
In the first set of commercial energy audit classes last week, eight students learned how to become energy consultants for commercial buildings. The class covered how to measure a buildings energy usage, analyze employee behavior in relation to energy use and create an operations and maintenance plan to sustain energy efficiency in a building. The class was funded by a grant from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to promote green jobs in the region.
As part of their training, students performed an energy audit of Cortez-based Osprey Packs. The company solicited the audit for both financial and environmental reasons, said Sam Mix, an associate marketing manager with Osprey and guide of the green team that develops ideas for how the company can be more environmentally friendly. Green efforts like energy conservation save the company money, save the environment and are becoming a selling point for customers, Mix said.
Especially in a slow economy, Osprey is not alone in looking at ways to reduce overhead, said Ed Hegwood, the class instructor. Thats why commercial energy auditing skills are valuable to have right now, he said.
This is all about turning stranded energy into profits and jobs, he said. There are benefits related to carbon (dioxide) reduction and global warming, but what drives this is good business economics.
While access to capital may be an issue for businesses looking to make energy retrofits, the Governors Energy Office has lists of rebates and resources aimed at helping businesses afford such expenses because of their long-term benefit, Zalneraitis said.
Next on the colleges schedule are photovoltaic installation classes that prepare students to become certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. The weatherization classes are going on throughout the year to certify workers who contract with the nonprofit Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency to do energy retrofits on low-income housing. The classes are limited to employees currently working with 4CORE, but the college may start similar classes for the public next year if there is demand, Malone said.