David Murray, Executive Director of the Maryland, D.C., Delaware, Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association (MDV-SEIA), was approached by SolUnesco CEO Francis Hodsoll in April 2018 about starting an initiative to develop the solar workforce in Virginia. Murray and MDV-SEIA were excited about the prospects of the initiative and joined the cause.
“When Francis [Hodsoll] approached me about starting an initiative to help localize jobs in the utility-scale solar market, I knew I had the unique opportunity to engage with members in the industry through MDV-SEIA,” Murray said. “I felt a responsibility to do right given my position, and I also knew this program could be a good model to replicate in other states and create solar careers.”
MDV-SEIA was formed back in 1984 and for the past 35 years, they have advocated on behalf of the regional solar industry through a number of avenues, including legislative engagement and regulatory intervention. For example, this past year MDV-SEIA was instrumental in helping to pass the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which will transition Virginia to 100% clean energy by 2050 which will drive investment in solar with clear, binding targets and creates more pathways for rooftop solar by eliminating several barriers currently in place.
This responsibility for advocating on behalf of the Mid-Atlantic solar industry naturally led to MDV-SEIA’s involvement as a member of SHINE’s Board. With over 100 member companies and nonprofits across all walks of the Mid-Atlantic solar industry, MDV-SEIA has been a valuable SHINE partner. They have provided numerous opportunities to network and engage with significant solar stakeholders on our efforts to develop the Virginia solar workforce.
“MDV-SEIA strives to expand access and availability of solar to all customer types while growing the market share of the industry within our broader energy system,” said Rachel Smucker, Virginia Policy and Development Manager at MDV-SEIA. “SHINE represents an opportunity to bring more individuals into this movement while providing a pathway for newly-trained installers to step into a career shortly after their training. In this way, SHINE is actively seeking to address the workforce development needs of the industry, which has grown more apparent with the recent growth of the industry,” Smucker went on to say.
Smucker is confident that Virginia’s solar industry will continue to grow, saying, “customer demand for solar [in Virginia] has increased exponentially in the past several years. Whether it is to help address climate change and meet sustainability goals or to cut operational costs, customers are demanding solar of all sizes.”
In addition to being a valuable Board Member, MDV-SEIA’s non-profit affiliate, the Solar Research Institute (SRI) hosts SHINE and contracts out the management of the program to Executive Director, David Peterson, and Program Analyst, Matt Connolly. In addition to his role at MDV-SEIA, Murray is also the Executive Director of SRI. When asked to talk about the mission of SRI, Murray stated, “the Solar Research Institute focuses on advancing the sustainability of the solar industry, ensuring it has the right level of engagement with stakeholders in the Mid-Atlantic region to make sure we have the right messaging when we talk about solar jobs. SRI doesn’t focus on lobbying or advocacy, but rather focuses on solar industry education.”
Murray and Smucker have used MDV-SEIA’s place in the solar industry to recruit other partners to join SHINE. When reaching out to solar industry stakeholders, Murray generally emphasizes a few key points regarding why in-state workforce development is so important: “from a dollar and cents perspective, it serves the industry better if we have a prepared workforce for faster project timelines and higher quality work. It also serves [the industry] better when we employ local talent to lower per diem costs and enrich the local economy.” Murray went on to say, “it’s also a good way to set the standard that solar companies and industry players care about the communities that they work in.”
The solar industry in Virginia is taking the lead on ensuring it does right by the communities in which it operates, and MDV-SEIA is helping solar companies do just that through their valuable partnership with SHINE.
The Maryland-DC-Delaware-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association was formed in 1984 by thought leaders and solar power pioneers who laid the foundation for what it is today - a flourishing industry trade association with over 180 member organizations, representing over 10,000 solar jobs in the region.
The Solar Hands-On Instructional Network of Excellence (SHINE), is a public-private partnership dedicated to building innovative solar career pathways in Virginia. SHINE’s mission is to develop a qualified, diverse, equitable, and inclusive solar workforce, equip Virginians with the tools and knowledge to enter the solar sector with a competitive edge, help solar developers and construction companies source qualified and trained talent, and bridge the gap between solar jobs supply and solar jobs demand.