Chicago Local 134 has a new tool to meet the challenges of a changing climate head-on, and on Sept. 16, Business Manager Don Finn flung open the doors to his local’s state-of-the-art Renewable Energy Training Field.

The new training facility, located on the campus of the Chicago-area IBEW-NECA Technical Institute – or IN-TECH – boasts several solar photovoltaic arrays, an 80-foot wind turbine, rooftop solar installations, a 100-foot cell tower and an 18 kW solar carport with four electric vehicle charging stations.

Finn praised the completion of the IBEW-NECA joint project, saying, “The future is clear. There was one choice and that was to meet the growing demand for renewable energy. Contractors will be able to take requests from customers knowing they have electricians with the best training and who are certified in renewable energy.”

Students have responded enthusiastically to the new training field as well.

“We’ve got 21 electricians enrolled in the PV [photovoltaic] course this term,” said Local 134’s assistant training director, Harry Ohde. “That’s a huge increase over last year’s course,” he said, adding that training center leaders expect to train 50 students using the field in the first year and hope for even more in the future.

“One of the most important components of the training field is the hands-on nature of it,” Ohde said. “I have high expectations for the program, and we hope its benefits aren’t limited to just the Chicago area.”

Indeed, the training field was built with IBEW locals and NECA chapters all over the country in mind. Ohde said he hopes other locals from across the country will come to Chicago to take advantage of the unique setup, “and we are looking into offering on-line courses as well … We want this training field to be the IBEW’s nationally recognized training facility for renewables.”

And while it trains the next generation of electricians, the field also serves a more immediate and practical function. The solar and wind technologies on site will contribute to IN-TECH’s status as a net-zero facility, powering the rest of the center’s campus with no carbon emissions.

David Witz, president of the Chicago NECA chapter, said at its opening, this project was designed “to meet the future demand for renewable energy that is coming like a freight train.”

“We are doing what we can in the electrical industry,” he said, “to decrease dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions, and we’re excited to celebrate our grand opening and to show the world what we’re doing.”