Coal mining sustained Colorado’s North Fork Valley for nearly 120 years. Now that the coal industry is on its way out, the people of North Fork Valley are looking to the future. Now, the children of coal miners are learning how to install soal panels to provide their town with sustainable energy.
Traditionally, many North Fork Valley high school seniors would graduate knowing that they could step into solid jobs in the town’s coal mines. But, in the last five years, two of the area’s three coal mines have closed and over 900 jobs were lost in the process. That’s when the community realized that there’s a solution in solar energy.
Not only is solar energy an environmentally friendly alternative to coal, but it can also provide new jobs for the people of North Fork Valley. Delta High School has begun a solar training course that prepares them for jobs installing solar panels. The program integrates solar training into a normal science curriculum.
Led by science teacher Ben Graves, high school students at Delta High School have helped install two solar arrays behind the school. During a school day, these arrays can supply up to 10% of the school’s energy.
“The facilities folks at first waved it away as a class project,” Graves told High Country News. “Now, maintenance sees it as a real way to reduce demand charges. It went from us pushing some of this stuff on the administration to them saying, ‘Wait a second, we actually want this.'”
Not only does this solar training program help the environment and the economy, but it also sets students up for successful futures. Graves said, “I think we have to be doing some sort of trades education. For a kid with a high school diploma, working service is really all you can do without more training.”
Gaves’ classes receive resources from the local nonprofit Solar Energy International. SEI is hopeful more programs like this one will improve lives around the country.