Nelson County is looking toward the future by combining renewable energy and school curriculum.

At a Nelson County Board of Supervisors meeting earlier this month, Jesse Rutherford, East District representative, announced plans for Nelson to get into the renewable energy game.

“I have been part of a group that has been working on soliciting grant money for career and technical education in renewable energy. We have the potential of being the first high school in the state of Virginia to be offering training in that industry,” Rutherford said.

The plans, still in the beginning stages, are focused on using solar energy in the county while providing high school students with job training in the field. Nelson is partnering with Piedmont Virginia Community College to pursue a GO Virginia grant. According to its website, GO Virginia is “a bipartisan, business-led economic development initiative that is changing the way Virginia’s diverse regions collaborate on economic and workforce development activities.”

Valerie Palamountain, dean of workforce services at PVCC, said everything is still very preliminary.

“It’s a statewide grant we are looking at. Renewable energy is considered an emerging industry,” Palamountain.

Palamountain said the group is still working on getting other employers in the region, school districts, PVCC, and possibly other community colleges involved with the new initiative.

“This would be to provide a pipeline of workers so we have people who are prepared to go into the renewable energy industry,” Palamountain said.

In a separate interview on Nov. 13, Rutherford said solar jobs are necessary not only to create but to retain jobs in Nelson and are also important to the three metropolis areas surrounding the rural county; Stuarts Draft, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville because many people living in Nelson work in those areas. Rutherford went on to say not only will high school students in Nelson get training in the solar energy field, but also in related CTE fields like welding.

“We’ll be going after a grant with the intent of developing a curriculum and implementing capital improvements,” Rutherford said.

Nelson County Public School Division Superintendent Martha Eagle said the schools are excited for the GO Virginia grant application and the program opportunity to partner with PVCC.

“Showcasing the first high school Solar or Renewable Resources Program in Virginia for our Nelson students is an amazing potential course offering,” Eagle said in an email. “With new solar fields and solar businesses investing in Virginia and our area, this creates the potential for business partnerships and internships for Nelson County Public Schools and our students.”

Eagle acknowledged this a growing field and said she appreciates the partnership between Nelson and PVCC.

David Parr, current vice chair and West District representative on the school board, said he believes this grant will provide the opportunity to not only educate high school students, but also give them the ability to get jobs in the industry after graduation.

“We are looking forward to the opportunity to partner with PVCC and provide additional CTE classes for our students to be educated on the installation and maintenance of solar equipment,” Parr said on Nov. 22.

Parr went on to echo Rutherford’s thoughts, saying this grant will also provide additional opportunities to expand the welding classes already at the high school and other indirectly related fields.

“It’s dual purpose for us,” Parr said.

A resolution seeking support of the grant application and matching funds will go before the board of supervisors for a vote in December, with the hopes it will agree to support the grant application and provide necessary matching funds. Palamountain confirmed the county would need to approve the application and agree to provide a one to one match.

“More importantly, it’s about giving our children out of high school and future residents opportunity and letting people change their lives that way,” Rutherford said.

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Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.

Erin Conway covers Nelson County. Reach her at (434) 385-5524 or econway@newsadvance.com.

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