Solar energy program heats up AC

Wind turbines
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AC institutes new solar energy program

By Chris Copeland

The National Science Foundation is providing Amarillo College with funding for the development of a new solar energy program, which began this semester.

AC’s renewable energy department received a $780,000 grant to establish a series of four solar energy classes.

The first class, an introduction to solar power, is available this semester. Art Schneider, director of renewable energy, said courses in solar fundamentals, installation and troubleshooting will be added in 2012.

“The Panhandle is the place for maximizing solar energy,” Schneider said. “We are in the prime location for harnessing that solar energy.”

Ken Archer, associate director of the Alternative Energy Division at West Texas A&M University, said AC’s partnership with WT is designed to prepare students for the job market.

“The jobs will be there as soon as we get them trained to the right standards, and AC is doing that,” he said.

In July, federal funding for alternative energy was pulled from Bushland and redirected to the Wind Research Center at Texas Tech University. In addition, WT was made the top program for turbine testing in the Texas Panhandle.

That shift of funding to the surrounding areas is quickly making AC the ideal place to begin an education in alternative energy, Archer said.

“The AC program has always dovetailed with what we’ve needed,” he said.

Archer said it makes an easy transition for students who want to transfer from AC to WT’s four-year program.

Some AC students already are taking advantage of the partnership by assisting in a new solar project at WT.

Damien Miller and Jose Melendez, AC renewable energy majors, have been helping with the installation of a 50-kilowatt solar panel system for the Palo Duro Research Facility.

Miller said he enjoyed being part of WT’s solar project. He said it allowed him to get much-needed experience in solar energy, since he will be graduating before AC’s program is fully instated.

“This opportunity was such a blessing because AC coordinated with WT to get us this experience,” he said.

The project will provide energy for the site of WT’s new solar research facility while giving a firsthand look at the advantages of solar power.

Archer said he is pleased with the quality of education provided by AC’s solar energy program and is impressed by Miller and Melendez.

“Heck, yeah,” Archer said. “I was happy, and I expect them to be back to finish up the project.”


Originally published: Friday, September 9, 2011

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