By Alexa Livingston
UNE Community News Fellow
As the future of Maine begins looking greener, the electric wiring program run by Timothy Fecteau at Sanford Regional Technical Center is giving students hands-on exposure to solar installation, a growing field in electrical work.
Three companies — Greentech Renewables, Generac, and Northeast Electrical — have come together to donate solar equipment for Fecteau’s students. Jay Desmond, master electrician and owner of Northeast Electrical, has worked alongside Fecteau’s class to get the project running, a process nearly two years in the making.
Last spring, Fecteau’s students helped Desmond install 16 panels on the Alumni Stadium’s storage shed. The panels offset some of the stadium’s electrical need for electricity, about 450 watts per panel in ideal conditions. But its main purpose is to introduce students to solar electronics. Generac donated what’s known as dead equipment, in this case an inverter that is no longer active, for student use in the classroom. Inverters are devices that convert direct current (DC) electricity from solar into alternating current (AC) electricity that can be used by grids. Desmond explains that students will monitor solar production from the active inverter, and their hands-on wiring experience will come from the inactive inverter in the classroom.
Six more panels are being installed on the ground for safer future access. “The purpose of that ground mount,” Fecteau says, “is that we can disconnect (the inverter). So safety wise, the kids aren’t going to get hurt. They’ll be able to take the panels off, take the racking system of f… and then put it right back up.” Between the roof panels, the dead inverter and the ground mount, students are getting a full-scope education in solar installation.
Students are equally excited about the valuable learning experience. Sanford senior Yao Wen Hu comments, “This opportunity to install solar panels has broadened my view of the different applications of the electrical field.” Wells senior Hunter Wildes says, “This small taste of the solar industry has inspired me and made me consider joining the solar sector for a career.”
Both students said they are thankful for the hands-on wiring practice, which SRTC prides itself in providing. Wildes affirms, “It was a great learning experience that helped me gain knowledge in a field of electrical that I had not yet worked in. The (hands-on) teaching styles of Mr. Fecteau and Mr. Desmond also helped me fully comprehend the subject matter.”
Fecteau and Desmond emphasize the importance of the work they are doing for current and future students of the program. Both say that Maine’s push for renewable energy, along with the fact that many electricians are nearing retirement age, means there’s a growing need for electricians in the state. They aspire to encourage more students to enter this labor force and believe that this project will give students a leg up in job opportunities. “Trade school is not an alternative to higher education,” Desmond says, “it’s an equivalent.”
The team hopes to expand the project in coming years to offset more of the school’s electricity use, but they’re more than happy with their accomplishments to date. Fecteau concludes, “It’s great to get the kids involved and to do this.”