FAIRFIELD — Kennebec Valley Community College announced on Thursday that it has been awarded a $1 million federal grant that could drive down installation costs for solar photovoltaic systems across the state.

Over the next two years, the grant will fund the training of solar electric instructors across the state.

“This is a training the trainer program,” said Dana Doran, director of the college’s energy programs.

The hope is that the program will lead to widespread knowledge about how to install solar electric programs. Instructors from career and technical high schools, community colleges and four-year institutions will be targeted to receive 80 to 100 hours of training, so that they can pass the information on to an army of contractors.

Doran said that the college was a good candidate for the grant, because it has built up some infrastructure with a similar grant-funded program to train solar heating and cooling instructors.

“That was a great springboard for us to move into solar photovoltaic,” he said.

The grant is part of the Solar Instructor Training Network of the U.S. Department of Energy, which was launched in 2009 to improve solar installation training. At that point, the college became one of nine regional providers identified across the nation to conduct the training.

The new grant will fund a mobile training lab, packed full of collecting modules, inverters, racking systems and wires to facilitate hands-on training, which Doran said will make it easier to reach out to potential instructors.

“They won’t all have to travel to Fairfield anymore,” Doran said.

Existing labs will also be equipped with more modern solar equipment.

The strategy to bring down the costs of renewable solar energy recognizes two main components of the price for an end-user.

“The hard costs, the equipment and supporting systems, have dropped so much over the last three or four years,” Doran said. “This will bring down the soft costs, the labor and the permitting process.”

In addition to installers, the program will also educate code enforcement officers and fire safety inspectors to help smooth out potential permitting obstacles.

Right now, Doran said, the cost of a solar system is “nearly on par” with more conventional systems, with the payback period around eight to 12 years, a period that he predicted will become shorter in the near future.

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe and U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud released statements praising the program.

“This is a critical opportunity for KVCC and, indeed, the entire State of Maine, and will help boost employment opportunities while ultimately reducing Maine energy bills. I could not be more pleased by this win-win proposition,” Snowe said.

Michaud called it an important step toward solar energy adoption, and “a win-win for the college and for jobs in our region.”

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