A $400,000 appropriation from the U.S. Department of Labor is helping Southern Utah University’s Business Resource Center and the Southwest Applied Technology College (ATC) educate the public while training the workforce and laying the groundwork for regional economic development in renewable energy.
“Southern Utah is unique because we have commercial-scale solar, wind, geothermal and bio-mass energy resources available,” said Jake Hardman, coordinator of the ATC’s Southwest Utah Renewable Energy Center. “That can create jobs, and jobs create a tax base.”
Brian Cottam, associate director of the SUU Office of Regional Services, said existing renewable energies are already scouting opportunities in southern Utah.
“They’re going to come here,” Cottam said. “We want to ensure that our existing local businesses can benefit from this new industry by providing their goods and services.”
Wes Curtis, SUU director of Regional Services, wrote the request for Congressional funding in 2010 and worked with former Sen. Bob Bennett to secure a two-year appropriation.
Bennett sponsored and rallied support for legislation that directed the Department of Labor to earmark some $400,000 for workforce development in southern Utah with a focus on renewable energy.
The money goes to Southwest ATC and SUU’s Business Resource Center for programs designed to fulfill Congressional directives that accompany the appropriation.
Cottam said Southwest ATC has used its portion of the funds to develop the Energy Academy, which he called “the workforce training component that the Department of Labor was so interested.”
The Energy Academy provides courses and certification in wind and solar energy; Southwest ATC is currently training renewable energy professionals.
Andy Swapp, a teacher at Milford High School, instrumental in attracting First Wind — a Boston-based company that operates 13 wind-energy projects in five states — to Beaver County. In cooperation with Southwest ATC, he has already trained 15 students who graduated and are now employed in renewable energy businesses.
Cottam said the ATC’s Southwest Utah Renewable Energy Center “keeps everyone focused on this vision.”
SUTREC is a public partnership consisting of nine entities: the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative, the Utah Department of Workforce Services, Southwest ATC, the City of Milford, Beaver County, the Beaver County School District, Milford High School, SUU Regional Services, and the Business Resource Center.
“The SUTREC staff holds the coalition together and keeps it moving ahead and focused on our mission,” Cottam said.
An important part of Hardman’s role as SUTREC coordinator is overseeing outreach programs designed to tout the efficiency of renewable energy.
“Jake reaches tons of people,” Cottam said.
Hardman said one of his most effective outreach devices is the SUTREC Early Education trailer, a teaching center on wheels he hauls all over the region to teach people about renewable energy.
“We can take it anywhere — from Millard County to the Utah-Arizona border, from St. George to Montezuma Creek,” Hardman said. “We’ve gone to festivals at downtown parks, the Utah Summer Games, SUU’s Earthfest, the Chamber of Commerce Business Expo, and the Utah Rural Summit.”
One of his biggest audiences is public school students, Hardman said.
“We try to expose them to the idea that renewable energy is a smart, safe alternative that takes advantage of our natural resources,” he said. “It’s surprising how much the kids already know and how much they’re able to understand about renewable energy and technology.”
Hardman said the trailer has created “an incredible buzz” among people who have seen it in action.
“There are only two or three others in the entire country that are similar, but they’re nothing on this scale,” he said.
The equipment, design and manufacture of the trailer cost about $50,000, which Hardman said is money well spent.
“We’re educating children about their future, and not only the children, but everyone else, too,” he said. “Renewable energy works, it’s affordable, and in my opinion, it has nothing to do with politics.”
During the 2012-13 academic year, Hardman estimates he will make 20 school visits and attend another 15 to 20 events — an average of one visit each week to a school or public event from mid-August to late May.
“We definitely have a lot more requests than we’ll be able to satisfy,” he said.
With an eye on economic development, SUTREC’s goals fit nicely with those of the Business Resource Center.
“One way to make a good living is to use what already exists in your backyard,” Hardman said. “We won’t run out of wind, sun or hot water. These are natural resources that will always be there. It’s not a political or an environment issues; it’s an economic development issue. It’s about using our natural resources to our advantage.”
Cottam said the Business Resource Center portion of the Labor Department appropriation supports the Business Expansion and Retention program.
“This money helps the BRC focus on existing renewable energy businesses, as well as businesses that could or already do provide products or services to renewable energy businesses,” he said.
He added, “If we can ensure that future renewable-energy businesses can obtain necessary products or services from existing local businesses, therein lies the value. We aim to keep existing renewable-energy commerce local.”
BEAR is all about “finding out what products or services we already have available locally and plugging them into local businesses,” Cottam said.