By Hamzat Sani, Special to the AFRO

In a week the District of Columbia will add a new cohort of Solar Installers to the growing number of residents entering an in demand industry. Solar Works DC has partnered with GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic for the first year of a low-income solar installation and job training program funded by the Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) and the Department of Employment Services (DOES).

GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic was awarded a grant May of last year to train 75 D.C. residents for Solar careers while installing free Solar Systems for up to 100 low-income households in its first year. One of those trainees is the entrepreneurial Mathews Carter of Southeast who learned of the program after seeing other trainees complete a solar installation as part of the Parkchester Housing Cooperative project. Carter is part of the program’s abbreviated 6 – week summer cohort composed of DOEE Green Zone Environmental Program (GZEP) participants also participating in DOES’s Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Program (MBSYEP) focused on youth ages 18 to 24.

Mathews Carter is part of the GRID Alternatives Solar Works DC has partnered. . (Courtesy Photo)

“The benefits of solar? Well the ultimate is saving money of course and saving the world, trying to make the world more efficient so that’s the best part of having solar. And the other hand is you’re saving money, you can save a lot of money yearly and you’ll notice it with solar. No one likes to pay a high energy bill,” Carter told the AFRO. According to Carter, homeowners can save 50% to 80% off their typical energy bill with one customer’s monthly bill coming all the way down to $8.

GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic also administers two 12 – week cohorts in the fall and spring open to all District residents ages 18 and over. Trainees of the 12-week sessions complete GRID’s Installation Basics Training (IBT) program, learning industry essential skills and certificates after demonstrating competency in real-world solar installations.

Trainees spend their 12 weeks with 2 – 3 days a week in workshops learning construction, outreach and workforce and the other 1 – 2 days doing onsite installation instruction. During the program participants earn $8.25 per hour as their training wage as well as a stipend for wraparound services.  After completing their testing, graduates from the program can earn on average between $15 to $18 per hour. Those who stick with it can expect a median hourly wage of $26 in the District-with Carter noting that he has seen wages as high as $50 per hour.

Spending time on top of a sloping roof in the stifling July heat is likely not the average person’s idea of a well-spent summer day. Carter, 23, however is determined to take advantage of this opportunity. “I’m not scared, I’m a go-getter and I want this because I know it’s about to be a high demand and after this I’m [going to] do welding just to have that under my belt because those [are] the two high demands in Washington right now. But solar definitely. I need this,” Carter told the AFRO.

Solar Works DC hopes to provide training for up to 225 District residents over the program’s three-year span preparing the next generation of the American labor force for entry-level green jobs. The projected growth rate of solar workers in 2017 was 26% according to The Solar Foundation’s job census, up from 18% in 2016 indicating an industry demand that is experiencing robust growth.

To find out more about the Solar Works DC program and how you may be eligible for free solar installation in your home or apply to become a trainee check out the program website at gridalternatives.org. The fall 2018 cohort will begin September 11 and continue until December 7.