FAIRFIELD — Vaughan Woodruff hopes his young children grow up thinking of solar technology the way his generation thinks of indoor toilets — conventional rather than alternative.

Woodruff, the solar thermal instructor at Kennebec Valley Community College, was one of several featured speakers Wednesday afternoon at the celebratory opening of the Solar Heating and Cooling Lab in the Muriel P. Frye building on the Fairfield campus.

Woodruff, who has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in education, said the college’s laboratory and training program has the potential to change the way solar technology is viewed and used.

Mainers, said Woodruff, have a reputation of being hard-working, stubborn and frugal. They accept new ideas after they have been proven.

The Pittsfield native said the lab and course could boost solar technology in the minds of the public with its “train the trainers” program.

Participants in the local course will come from other community colleges, career and technical education centers, apprenticeship programs and private companies. After the 40-hour course, the trainers will return to their respective areas and prepare their students for careers as solar energy installers.

Woodruff said participants will get hands-on installation training on the indoor roofs.

Proper installation of solar technology is critical, Woodruff said, as real-world mistakes may mar the reputation of the industry and tempt people to fall back on oil and other heating options.

In October 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy, in partnership with the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education, launched the Solar Instructor Training Network to address a need for high-quality, local and accessible training in solar system design, installation, sales and inspection.

The Department of Energy chose the college as one of nine regional resource and training sites across the United States.

The lab, which has been in development for more than a year and is the lone facility of its kind on the Eastern seaboard, has already hosted two training sessions for solar thermal instructors from seven states.

Joseph Sarubbi, project manager of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, lauded local college administrators for showing courage by procuring a grant to make its “world-class facility” a reality.

“A little mouse is now roaring in central Maine,” Sarubbi said.

Dana Doran, director of energy programs at the college, talked about two solar collectors on his house since 1975.

Doran said the panels had functioned well for 36 years, essentially providing him with free hot water for the duration.

“This equipment lasts,” he said. “These prove our way of life going forward.”

The lab and program “illustrate a long-term vision to move Maine away from its dependence on foreign oil,” said Michael Stoddard, executive director of the Efficiency Maine Trust.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, echoed that sentiment in a congratulatory letter that Brian Whitney, her regional representative, read to the gathering.

Snowe said the lab and training program will position Maine to become a leader in renewable energy and “is nothing short of an imperative to provide employment while simultaneously reducing Maine energy bills.”

Other dignitaries who attended included Barbara Woodlee, president of Kennebec Valley Community College; John Fitzsimmons, president of the Maine Community College System; and Ken Fletcher, director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security.

Woodruff thanked Kennebec Valley Community College for affording him the opportunity to be involved in the groundbreaking program.

“I am so excited and happy to be working 20 minutes down the road from where I grew up,” said Woodruff, who has returned to Pittsfield and is living in the home where his grandparents once resided.

Except now it’s equipped with solar panels.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

bstaples@centralmaine.com