Philly electricians say state needs more solar power

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98’s financial office and training headquarters at 1719 Spring Garden are now 25 percent-powered by solar panels on the building’s roof, members say. Down the street, their financial offices at 1701 Spring Garden are 10-15 percent-powered by panels on the roof.

“We’re going to be ahead of the curve when it becomes ever more popular,” said Tom Kowal, 40, a fifth-year apprentice in IBEW’s solar panel training program.

Kowal and JJ Kedra, 32, also an apprentice, both said learning the new skills is “absolutely” positive for their careers — although Kedra acknowledged it’s still a costly technology.

“It’s still in the infancy stages. The more that it’s getting done, the costs will come down,” Kedra said.

The IBEW was joined Wednesday by Gov. Tom Wolf’s Secretary of Policy and Planning John Hanger in calling on the legislature to pass a $50 million subsidy for solar energy in Wolf’s budget under the PA Sunshine program.

“A dollar spent here can leverage up to three, four, five dollars of private investment,” Hanger said.

“If the legislature does the right thing, these folks can be up on roofs in three-four-five months earning a decent paycheck.”

The IBEW trains groups of about 50 apprentices at a time in solar panel technology, so far having passed 2,000 through the program, said Iggy Fletcher, IBEW’s solar power instructor. He said solar power is definitely a growth industry.

“Look at Eagles stadium, look at their training facility, look at IKEA on Delaware Avenue – they all have solar,” he said.

The PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center also released a study of solar panel usage Wednesday among 70 large cities that found Philadelphia to be ranked 26th for its total solar output.

“With prices going down and concern about global warming going up, solar power is growing rapidly in our state,” saidDavid Masur, PennEnvironment’s executive director.

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