Gov. Rendell stood on the deck of a Roxborough home last month talking about how the $100 million in the Pennsylvania Sunshine rebate program would make it possible for homeowners to afford an energy-saving solar system.
In Malvern, the $800,000 solar system that Siemens Medical Solutions installed in 2006 is yielding $18,000 a year in savings. With a state grant reducing the cost to $400,000, building manager Kevin Matthews expects the system to pay for itself by 2013.
To the 80 or so electrical contractors, suppliers, and electricians' union officials at a seminar hosted by the National Electrical Contractors Association's Penn-Del Jersey chapter yesterday, these examples prove that the solar-energy market is ready to yield its financial promise.
That is why the contractors want everyone to understand that, fundamentally, it is electrical work and that their employees, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are already trained to handle the jobs.
"There is a green workforce prepared to install these sustainable-energy projects," said Kenneth MacDougall, business-development director for the contractors' association.
Regardless of whether power originates from the sun or a dam, it is electricity and it moves through wires, he said.
MacDougall works closely with IBEW Local 380 in Collegeville, which has added green-energy training to its five-year electrical-apprenticeship program. Its facilities include a solar structure that apprentices use to practice installing solar panels and connecting them to the structure's electrical system.
Union and management work together to develop and fund the training.
Green-energy work "all seems so new and fascinating, but we've been doing it," said David Schaaf, business manager of Local 380.
But there are hitches in the pitch. Pennsylvania's Department of Energy, for example, wants solar contractors used in the Sunshine rebate program to be certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.
The national electrical contractors' association and the union are close to convincing the board that its training meets board standards, a national apprentice-training director told the group.
But there is another problem. The board requires contractors to have a certified practitioner on staff when they bid for the work.
That is not an issue for Union Electrical Contracting Co., the Fort Washington company that handled the Siemens job. It employs 100 electricians, including a dozen who work on solar projects.
But smaller contractors bidding on residential projects probably will not have that kind of person on staff. Instead, they would call the union for a journeyman trained in solar. MacDougall said that his organization and union officials were trying to persuade the state to amend regulations to accommodate this common type of building-trade business model.