HALFWAY — Alternative energy companies and applications are beginning to generate electricity and jobs in the Tri-State area and, while those technologies will not replace traditional energy sources in the near term, Hagerstown Community College is betting the future for people who can design, install and service those systems is bright.
"I work in finance, but I've been interested in this for a long time. Clean energy makes sense," said Chris Mumma of Hagerstown, who stopped by HCC's Valley Mall Center on Saturday to check out windmills, solar panels and other displays for the college's Alternative Energy Technology Program open house.
"This is the future," Mumma said.
HCC now offers a two-year alternative energy technology degree and certification programs for solar and wind and geothermal installation and service.
"We really think the certificates are what the community wants," said Margaret Spivey, director of HCC's Technology and Computer Studies Division. Electricians, plumbers and other skilled workers can earn certifications that will make them more marketable as alternative technologies become more mainstream, she said.
"All of the skills that are learned to get these certifications and degree are employable skills," said Tony Valente, coordinator of Industrial and Energy Technology. "They are getting skills they can use with existing companies."
Courses ranging from photovoltaic, wind energy and geothermal installation to customer service and facilities safety and compliance, according to program literature.
"If you get the skills now, you're going to be a very valuable employee in the near future," Spivey said. The program is being funded with the help of a $1.87 million U.S. Department of Labor grant, she said.
Since the program received state designation in September, Maryland students from outside Washington County are eligible for in-county tuition rates, Valente said. About 50 students enrolled this fall, he said.
The Staples distribution center in Hagerstown has a solar field that generates more than 1 megawatt of energy, and the Smile Design Center had solar panels installed as did Copyquik Printing & Graphics, Valente said. Millennium Energy 3 in Hagerstown, Glory Energy in Boonsboro, Sustainable Energy of Frederick and Total Comfort Systems in Smithsburg are among the companies dedicated to or branching into alternative energy, he said.
There are tax credits for residential installations, accelerated depreciation for commercial applications and other government incentives to spur alternative energy businesses, said Phil Kelly of Millennium Energy 3.
One job the program created was a lab technician position for Robert Price of Hagerstown. However, that happened as a result of another trend — manufacturers of alternative energy systems moving overseas.
Price worked at BP Solar in Frederick, Md., until earlier this year, when it shifted production of solar panels to other countries.