In today’s post, I wanted to highlight 2 interesting problems that, when combined together, could yield a fairly impressive solution.

Problem 1 – Not Enough Funding for Veteran Solar Training

If you’ve followed this blog over the past few months, you already know that USSolar is a big supporter of the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) – a Department of Defense-funded extension of the GI Bill that provides returning soldiers with advanced training for the jobs of tomorrow.

In fact, we were the very first solar PV training college tapped by the DoD to begin accepting qualifying veterans.

The first incarnation of the VRAP was largely a success, with over 45,000 veterans receiving training in a wide range of career fields, including solar PV installation.

However, as with many government programs, funding is limited, meaning that only a select few qualifying veterans were accepted in the first round.  This limitation exacerbated the country’s unemployment rate – a trend that disproportionately affects men and women in uniform.

We’re hopeful that round 2 of the VRAP (VRAP 2.0) will have more funding and more slots.  But with the debt ceiling and fiscal cliff and constant hand-wringing in Washington, who knows what could happen?

In the meantime, what to do with the nearly 900,000 veterans who are still looking for work?

Problem 2 – Can the Armed Forces Really Reach 25% Renewables by 2025

If you’ve followed this blog over the past several years, you already know that we’re huge advocates of sustainability.  By combining solar + wind + conservation, we can move off of Big Oil and embrace an economy powered by renewable energy.

It’s not simply a wish – it is a reality.

The Department of Defense (the same guys behind the VRAP) has an executive order to derive 25% of its energy from renewables by 2025.  It’s an achievable goal, but not at the current pace.  And like VRAP 2.0, funding remains the main hurdle – not political will or technology or any of the usual culprits.

It really comes down to money.

Solution – Using VA Education to Bring Solar PV Installation Costs Down

Usually when you have 2 competing programs vying for the same tax dollars, you have to choose – either/or.  But what if we leveraged one program to benefit the other?

Bear with me a minute.

What if we heavily financed solar PV education with the VRAP.  This creates a much larger green workforce (which we need) and dramatically reduces unemployment (especially amongst veterans).

Fewer benefits dolled out as unemployment insurance => more money taken in as taxable income.

These newly certified solar PV professionals can then install new systems at Army bases around the world, thus, dramatically reducing foreign oil imports, stretched supply lines, and the need to finance security forces in oil-rich (but politically unstable) regions of the world.

Less money spent on imported oil => more savings to finance future training and renewables.

Because the government would be doing all of this during a depressed economy, both the parts and labor would be relatively cheap compared to boom times.

In fact, this is a basic Keynesian principle of economics.  When times are good, let business flourish. When times are bad, let government step in and jumpstart the economy by investing in infrastructure at competitive rates.

Increased demand for solar PV parts would also create more demand for manufacturing – both domestic and abroad.  So there might even be a slight boom in solar panel production Stateside – yet another benefit of this approach.

Who knows if this will work?  I’m not an economist (although I have degrees in mechanical engineering and economics).

All I know is….

  • We have a solar PV labor gap
  • We have high unemployment amongst veterans
  • We have an oil addiction

I think that with the right approach, this solution could pay off huge dividends because it doubles down on the DoD’s investment in retraining and energy independence.