Green Careers Texas held a ribbon cutting in October for its solar training facility in South Dallas. From left board members Paula Day, Ann Small, Michael Fladmark, Derek Avery, along with City Councilman Adam Bazaldua, board member Michael Martin, Green Careers cofounder Tracy Wallace, board member Erick Jones, Jr. and Green Careers cofounder Mark McCollom. Photo by Tanya Raghu | Dallas Free Press.
Nov. 9, 2023
When Tracy Wallace and her husband Mark McCollum first saw the 2015 documentary, Catching the Sun, a lightbulb literally went off in their heads.
The movie chronicles the growth of the solar industry. The film showcases a diverse group of characters who all played a part in the world’s evolving transition to solar power.
The couple decided it was time to act and do their part to bring solar power to Dallas. So in 2016, she and her husband, came up with Green Careers Texas, a nonprofit that takes a unique slant on solar advocacy — by helping low-income individuals get a foothold in the industry.
“It’s been difficult because Texas lacks the policy infrastructure that has accelerated the growth of clean solar energy like California and other states," said Wallace. "It’s taken a while for the solar industry in Dallas to support full-time employment. Green Careers was a bit early to the scene but the Inflation Reduction Act is fueling new jobs and solar just makes sense economically, so we’ve seen steady growth here. Five years ago, Texas was fifth for installed solar behind California, New York and New Jersey. Now, Texas is second and will soon overtake California for first place.”
Originally operating as Green Careers Dallas, the nonprofit's first mission was to bring environmental justice to two of the most financially challenged zip codes in Dallas: 75210 and 75215. The concept was to develop a solar power training facility for residents of these zip codes and “disrupt poverty through green career training and community education.” With their newfound skills, the new graduates would be eligible to get hired by solar power installation companies and earn a living wage.
Wallace said they spent the first two years of the pandemic fundraising for and searching for a location to build.
"We held previous classroom trainings at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and Eastfield College. We changed our model when the pandemic hit, getting us out of the classroom and into a realistic installation setting — on the roof. In October of 2021, we held our first two-day outdoor training at For Oak Cliff on a hillside that mimicked the slant of a roof top.”
NEW TRAINING FACILITY
The training facility demonstrates solar panels on two of the most common types of roofing material, asphalt shingles and standing seam metal roofing. Photo by Harriet Blake.
The nonprofit eventually found a home in South Dallas at Restorative Farms, which provides the land free of charge. In return, Green Careers Dallas has built a solar-powered mini-grid, which not only is used for training but will eventually power Restorative Farms. Wallace says they are waiting on approval from Oncor. During the 2021 freeze, the farm lost all its seeding. Solar power will be a key and needed component as the farm grows, says Wallace.
Last month, Green Careers held a ribbon cutting to celebrate the official opening of the training site at Restorative Farms. The site is a 20-foot-by-40-foot carport. Half the roof is made of architectural asphalt shingles and the other half with standing seam metal.
“These are the two most common rooftops installers will encounter in residential solar installations,” says Wallace.
The new facility, she says, “gives us a permanent home where we can host trainings each quarter. We’ve created a micro grid that creates a model of resilience for Restorative Farms, who allowed us to build on their land. The training rooftop was completed just before Thanksgiving in 2022. We’ve held four trainings in 2023.”
All four sessions have been taught by her husband and their 26-year-old son, who also works for Canadian Solar. Two of their trainees have gone on to become program managers at Green Careers Texas.
The outdoor classroom at the new Green Careers Texas solar installation training facility in Dallas. Photo by Harriet Blake.
Three courses are offered at the site, each of them consist of 18 hours. They are Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Installation; Crew Team Lead; and Solar for Licensed Electrical Journeyman. Wallace says these are the three different entry points along the solar installation career path.
“The first is basic installation from which a graduate can immediately become a productive member of an installation crew. The second teaches team management and efficient workflow. The third is more advanced and is designed for those individuals who are already a Licensed Electrical Journeyman but have no experience with solar PV arrays. The solar industry is hungry for journeymen and this course prepares them to finalize a system for inspection and ‘permission to operate’ with the utility.”
The solar-powered mini grid at Restorative Farms operates two roofs with solar panels. It took two years of fundraising to build, assisted by donated equipment from Solar Edge. Trainees are taught the technology of solar panels and how to hang and install them. The end game is that these trainees will then get hired for solar installation jobs that will earn them a living wage ($18 to $20/hour plus savings and health benefits).
Wallace says, “We recruit hard-to-employ low-income individuals. Some of our program graduates have something in their legal background. Others were working dead-end jobs with lower wages. All who are earning less than the federal poverty-level income, receive training for free. All program participants take an online OSHA 10 course and receive their Apprentice Electrician’s license and are connected to solar employers for interviews…We provide program graduates with contact information of solar companies that we know are reputable…We don’t have staff to provide full placement services so we partner with other nonprofits for resume writing and support graduates who may need help with childcare, transportation food, clothing and housing.”
Trainees, says Wallace, learn to use the safety harnessing system, hand and power tools as well as how to properly lift modules and proper torquing of attachments — all while doing a real installation. She says that by the second day of training, trainees are installing independently.
“When we began,” says Wallace, “we taught a 40-hour class that could lead to the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners associate certification. Employers told us it was ‘overkill’ and they just wanted ‘warm bodies.’ Since we recruit from vulnerable populations, we want to make sure our program graduates know how to be safe on the job and how to be productive on their first day of work.”
Green Careers' training grid in Dallas will eventually power Restorative Farms. Photo by Harriet Blake.
Green Careers has trained more than 100 individuals since its inception. This includes training of local Career Technology Education high school students onsite at their schools and on field trips to Green Careers Texas.
Currently, says Wallace, the program trains students for entry level installer jobs as well a crew leads and solar for journeyman.
“We dream of the ability to expand access to more green careers for low-wage earners. Clean energy offers many entry points and careers. The Inflation Reduction Act is growing clean energy in many ways and we need to make sure our low-income neighbors can benefit from employment in these industries as well as install the same technology in their homes, whether its LED lighting, hybrid electric hot water heaters, air-sourced heat pump or solar arrays.”
Wallace says the longterm goal of Green Careers is to prepare the next generation to take over — to pass the environmental torch.
“We opened a second training site in Houston with our partner, South Union CDC. We will open a third site in Austin by the end of 2024,” she says.
"The Inflation Reduction Act is growing clean energy in many ways and we need to make sure our low-income neighbors can benefit from employment in these industries as well as install the same technology in their homes, whether its LED lighting, hybrid electric hot water heaters, air-sourced heat pump or solar arrays.”
Green Careers is a relatively small nonprofit and as director, Wallace wears many hats, including head of media relations and fundraising. The nonprofit is working to become an Eligible Training Provider for the Texas Workforce Commission, says Wallace. They recently received a generous donation this year from Sunrun, a home solar panel company, that helped buy needed tools and safety harnessing systems. In addition, they have a subcontract with the Texas State Energy Conservation Office for a pilot program called “Classrooms to Careers.”
At Green Careers Texas, Wallace and her nonprofit, are making well-paid green jobs a viable option to lift people out of poverty.
The North Texas Renewable Energy Group is hosting a field trip to Green Careers Texas' solar training facility at Restorative Farms on Saturday, Nov. 11, 10 a.m. to noon.
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