Photo by Kevin Zansler / The Times-PicayuneSpectators watch from a nearby platform as solar panels are installed on the roof of a Lower 9th Ward house that's part of nonprofit Global Green's development there.
Gathered on a platform next to the roof of one of the two-story single-family homes in the Lower 9th Ward, onlookers watched as installers with South Coast Solar of New Orleans mounted a set of photovoltaic panels onto a metal roof.
"We are trying to demystify the use of renewable energy equipment and green building techniques," Global GreenExecutive Director Beth Galante said.
The installations were a minor milestone for Global Green, which began construction earlier this year on the second and third of five planned sustainable homes in Holy Cross, ending a year-long delay following the completion of the first house. Beyond that, the installations provided a platform to celebrate the expanding solar industry. Assisting South Coast Solar in the project was Julio Cardoza, a trainee with Delgado Community College's solar installation course.
Cardoza is interning with South Coast Solar to complete the hands-on portion of the Delgado course, which requires trainees to help complete two on-site jobs, said Steve Shelton, executive director of the Louisiana CleanTech Network, a nonprofit that helped implement the solar installation course at Delgado.
"This is the sixth course we've done" in about a year, with similar courses implemented in Lafayette and Monroe, Shelton said. The courses have produced 140 trained solar panel installers in Louisiana and across the country, as about one-third of the trainees come from out of state, he said.
"We've been the only solar training course in the South except for one in Florida," Shelton said, adding that the CleanTech Network is helping set up six courses at community colleges in Texas.
The past year has significantly expanded residents' options for finding an installer, Shelton said.
"What we've found is that we weren't just training installers; we were training companies," he said. "When we first started (at Delgado), there were two (solar installation) companies in the state. Now there's 40."
Whether the consumer market is ready to employ all these new installers, however, is unclear. Louisiana offers some of the best incentives for solar panels in the country, with a 50 percent state tax credit that falls on top of a 30 percent federal tax credit. That still leaves the average consumer with an upfront cost, for a typical single-family home system, of about $25,000.
For South Coast Solar, upfront costs haven't slowed business. According to CEO Tucker Crawford, the company has a three-month waiting list.
Of the Delgado training course, Crawford said: "It's growing the industry."