Cypress Creek Renewables and Kankakee Community College announced a partnership Monday afternoon that will further the school's investment in renewable energy education and provide job training for the future of solar.
The initiative, which includes a $10,000 investment by Cypress Creek, will provide scholarships and tuition assistance for students interested in solar technology. The announcement comes as KCC prepares to ramp up construction on its Advanced Technology Education Center, a state-of-the-art facility that will be home to its electrical technology and renewable energy programs. The project was delayed for a lack of state funding, but is back on track to finish in 2019.
"We were so far ahead of the curve at one time, we didn't know if other people would get caught up," KCC President Dr. John Avendano said of the school's energy programs. "The key is that people understand that there will be green jobs, using what I refer to as green skills. These are electrical technicians who will be working with green skills and green technology — solar, geothermal, wind — but they're still electricians and technicians."
Solar has the potential to be a major industry in Kankakee County, as the county board anticipates fielding a number of applications for solar farms this year. Currently, more than 3,500 jobs across the state depend on solar technology.
"The fact that a company like Cypress Creek is here giving scholarships to help educate people to work on solar projects, wind projects, all type of renewable energy projects, bodes well for our area and KCC to continue to be a leader in the field," said Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County. "Solar is going to be a really hot item over the next several years and the years to come."
Cypress Creek, which has similar partnerships with schools in New York and South Carolina, searched across the state for a school to partner with before picking KCC.
"After the search, we ran the idea by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and they basically told us we could not make a better choice. They endorsed KCC and we're thrilled to partner with the perfect college in this situation," said Scott Novack, senior developer for Cypress Creek.
The scholarship money is flagged to support a diverse program, with an emphasis on training women and veterans looking to break into the industry. Novack anticipates Cypress Creek projects will be important job creators in Kankakee County.
"Solar farm is very similar to other forms of real estate development in some ways. It's similar in that it requires a number of trades, oversight on the design process. Along the way there are a lot of qualified professionals that need to weigh in," he added. "We see a local workforce being able to contribute on a number of levels."