Pleasants Industries CEO Richard Pleasants told the Crozet Community Advisory Council Nov. 19 that he will open the Renewable Energy Academy of Virginia in Crozet next spring at a site not yet selected.
He told the CCAC that his decision on where to open a manufacturing plant for wind turbine parts has narrowed to preferable sites in Crozet (on the CSX property that once held a spur to the lumberyard) or Waynesboro (at the shuttered Mohawk carpet plant, which has a rail spur), but that contender locations in Nelson County and southern Maryland are not finally ruled out.
The academy will offer courses to train for certification by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, and by the American Wind Energy Association.
The academy will offer courses “two or three nights a week for 90 minutes each night,” he said, in four areas: solar energy, wind energy, energy conservation and gray water.
“It’s all geared toward someone who wants a 21st-century skill but without having to go to college.”
“We need more certified installers,” said Pleasants. “Experienced solar installers will teach solar. We’ll go deep into wind because that’s our business.”
Each area will have an introductory “awareness course” and then three additional courses that will cover economic, historical and technical aspects of the subject.
“My goal is to get Western Albemarle High School’s Environmental Science Academy plugged into the program. It will give those students something tangible outside their academic education.” Pleasants said ninth-grade students in the ESA could take the awareness-level course at his academy for free. “I’d even like to get middle school kids in the academy.
“We would be a local employer who would need these skills in our workforce,” he said.
Courses will last four to six weeks and cost $100 each, he said. Completing four courses in an area—which should take 12 weeks—will prepare a student for certifications that are recognized nationally and internationally, he said. “We will have approval from national organizations.”
Pleasant said the academy will offer one scholarship in each track every year, but a student must be in high school to be eligible.
Pleasants said he has hired Training4Good, a Waynesboro company specializing in curriculum and instructional design, to develop course materials for the classroom and use online. Sara Christopherson from the company was at the CCAC meeting to answer questions.
Pleasants said Training4Good would also be developing training materials for the manufacturing operation. The company also offers marketing services.
“Courses are open to anybody of any age. We need to build public awareness about energy solutions and their economics,” said Pleasants. “We want our students to have real, timely information. It won’t be all lectures. The certification-level courses are more intense and will be compressed into a week of nine-to-five classes. We’ll also visit sites where the technology is working. We’ll have speakers from manufacturers.” He said class size should be 15 students.
“These courses are not intended to replace college. They are to develop the technical skills the industry needs. We want to build out skills people have to apply then to the renewable energy industry. Contractors need people who can install solar. And we want our students to be able to work for manufacturers, like Siemens.”
Pleasants said he had intended to launch the manufacturing plant before proceeding with the academy, “But this has to proceed because of delays in settling on a location.”
Three instructors, on contract, will teach to start. “These are people who have been in the industry for some time who are willing to be teachers,” he said. “People go into education for fulfillment, not for the money. The academy will be profitable, but that’s not why we are doing it. We need to educate people in renewable energy.
“We’ll also teach an information technology course to show how solar and wind energy technologies are converging. I have that slant myself.”
Courses will also be offered online through a subscription fee.
Pleasants said he will offer proposals in response to Albemarle County’s request for users of the vacant Crozet depot and a vacant 1,000-square foot space on the first floor of Crozet Library, next to Crozet Running. The academy will not be housed in the manufacturing plant, he said, even if the plant is built in Crozet. The academy is a separate company.
He said his target date to open the academy is April 1. He said he would like to open similar academies in North Carolina and Maryland and eventually have training programs serving the whole East Coast.