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Local 252, contractors flip switch on alternative energy

Date Posted: October 16 2015

ANN ARBOR - Michigan is meeting the requirements of a seven-year-old state law which calls for 10 percent of the state be powered by renewable energy sources.

A tiny sliver of that energy production is coming from the IBEW Local 252 Training Center, which dedicated its new 16.8 KW solar array, 2.4 KW wind turbines and a car battery charging station during an open house on Oct. 7.

Since the solar panels went up last April and the wind turbines started spinning in June, the combined power production at the school has yielded 17.3 megawatts. While the 60 percent lower energy bills are nice for the apprenticeship school, the bigger part of the story is the brain power used by the school's apprentices and journeymen to learn best practices for the design and installation of such renewable energy sources, to help their employers be in a better position to gain work.

"As we learn and work with this equipment, we're better able to provide for our contractors a trained workforce that brings knowledge and skills that they need," said Ann Arbor Electrical JATC Director John Salyer. "And that will in turn bring savings to the end user."

The Local 252 Apprenticeship School's bonafides in the subject of renewable energy are evident at the front of their building, which faces I-94. A bank of 60 south-facing solar panels erected this spring line the front edge of the parking lot, while a pair of 30-foot-tall wind turbines flank the driveway. The work involves more than just placing a bunch of dark panels and planting the rotors, apprentices also must learn about things like inverter cells, optimizers and a properly set up racking system.

The class of 2019 did all the work on the wind turbines, and the solar array was a cooperative effort by apprentice and journeymen. 

"It's an awesome installation, and a great testament to what happens when union members and contractors strive to meet the needs of their customers," said Mike Crawford, executive director of the Michigan Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association. "All the training that you find here for apprentices and journeymen and women embraces the goal of offering the best-trained workforce possible."

Ann Arbor isn't exactly a prime location for wind, and Michigan in general isn't the best state for seeing sunny days. But with technology improving in the science of wind energy capture and solar panel construction and installation, individual businesses and residential customers are continuing to ask for the installation of those technologies, and Michigan utilities have put thousands of tradespeople to work installing wind and solar energy systems. DTE Energy announced in August that it is building an 800 kw solar array in Ypsilanti, and it recently completed a 1.1 megawatt array at Domino's Farms near Ann Arbor.

Salyer said Local 252 members have worked on every DTE Energy solar project in their jurisdiction. "This training is vital for us, and makes us ready for what our contractors need," Salyer said.

The solar and wind curriculum at Local 252 is part of $1.5 million Local 252 spends every year on training. "Our commitment to solar and wind puts us at the forefront of these energy technologies," said Local 252 Business Manager Tim Hutchins. "And we work in partnership every day, labor and management, in a training environment that's self-funded and uses no tax dollars. And this training and everything else we do puts us at the best possible position to bring a great result to our end users."

IBEW Local 252 members and contractors stand in front of the solar array at the Ann Arbor Electrical JATC.