Grant creates green jobs at UNC

UNC-CH receives $324,736 to start program


“Spotlight Solar designs an art form intended to be visually appealing on the ground, among the people, versus on the roof,” said Craig Merrigan, CEO of Spotlight Solar, sitting with one of his two UNC interns, Jessica Bruckert. The company’s mission is to raise awareness for solar energy.

Correction (September 9, 12:41 a.m.): Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated by which academic year internships will be created. They will be created by the end of the 2012 academic year. The story also incorrectly stated the number of interns who will be hired in the spring. Ten interns will be hired. The story has been changed to reflect the corrections. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the errors.

As unemployment rates continue to hover around double digits, universities are using federal funds to create internships in a sector that the Obama administration has repeatedly said will lead the U.S. out of the recession.

North Carolina received $5.6 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act this summer to create more than 400 jobs and internships in the renewable or “green” energy sector. The N.C. State Energy Office is now in the process of distributing the grant money to universities, private businesses and public agencies to train students and recent graduates for future jobs in the sector.

62 interns through UNC’s Institute for the Environment by the end of the 2012 academic year:

2 fellows hired in the fall

10 interns hired in the fall

10 interns hired in the spring

Look out for application notices in the Spring – internships will be open for undergradudate and graduate students of any and every discipline.

50 more interns will be hired.

Possible internships:

Duke Energy

Progress Energy

Town of Chapel Hill

Environmental Finance Center

Carolina Wind Power

Spotlight Solar

N.C. Solar Center

“It’s the kind of training employers will be looking for,” said Seth Effron, the communications director for the N.C. State Energy Office. “The interns will be prime candidates for those jobs.”

Universities in the planning process

UNC-CH received a $324,736 grant for a green energy internship program which will be distributed by the University’s Institute for the Environment.

The University is in the process of selecting the first 10 interns. They will be announced later this week, said Lindsay Leonard, internship coordinator for the Institute for the Environment.

The institute is expecting an even more competitive process in the spring, Leonard said.

In total there will be 62 internships created by the end of the 2012 academic school year, she said.

“There is the same regard for students across disciplines with different backgrounds and skill sets,” Leonard said.

Departments at N.C. State University received the largest portion of the grant totalling more than $1.7 million.

“Our goal is to create green jobs and to get students in engineering, business, finance and economics involved,” said Chelsea Conover, the energy crops specialist at the N.C. Solar Center for the university.

Working with solar panels and more

Different departments at UNC-CH and NCSU are deciding where they want to place their interns — they could be within the universities or outside.

One participating department is the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, which works with green energy entrepreneurial initiatives, said Jessica Thomas, managing director for the center.

The center will allocate interns to companies like Spotlight Solar, an entrepreneurial solar panel designer. They design solar panels for on-the-ground installation to promote awareness of solar energy.

“We make mounting equipment which supports solar panels in a very visually distinctive way,” said Craig Merrigan, founder and CEO.

An intern at Spotlight Solar would get the opportunity to learn about the dynamics of an emerging market, solar and renewable energy and managing a start-up company in a national roll-out plan, Merrigan said.

Jessica Bruckert is one of the two UNC students currently interning with Spotlight Solar. She is a part-time undergraduate student studying philosophy.

“Not every student may wish to be a social entrepreneur, but there does exist a change-maker path for every student, whatever their passion or concentration,” Bruckert said in an e-mail.

More jobs for graduates

Due to growth of the green economy, the state is now able to support wind, solar and biomass industries.

The state is expecting about 150,000 jobs to be created in the green industry by the year 2038, said Larry Shirley, director of the development of the green economy division of the N.C. Department of Commerce.

“Whatever your particular forte is, there is a lot of room for new business and growth,” he said.

Despite the recession, college graduates are finding niche specialties and jobs connected to alternative energy.

“It has continued to grow, even in the worst economy since the Depression,” Shirley said.

People no longer need an engineering degree to find a place in the growing industry. It demands a variety of skill sets and degrees, he said.

Trying to make up for losses

There is economic transformation in all green energy sectors from production to installation to inspection, Shirley said.

“There will be jobs all along the way of the supply chain,” he said.

The new technology will also create demand for updated programs at community colleges and universities, he said.

“Green economy will produce substantial job gains,” Shirley said.

“Whether it’s enough to make up for losses in the rest of the areas, we’re certainly trying to make it happen, but it won’t be just the green.

“It’s an important, substantial part but not the whole picture.”

But some doubt how much the alternative energy industry can alleviate high unemployment in the state.

The specialization of jobs in the alternative energy industry makes it hard for most North Carolinians to take advantage of the job growth, said N.C. State economics professor Michael Walden.

“It’s a very eclectic mix of technicians, professionals and manufacturing workers,” he said.

“We cannot rely on green jobs to solve the unemployment problem in North Carolina.”

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