Soul Power: Equitable Solar Workforce Development in Michigan City, Indiana

| By Zack Loehle, Interstate Renewable Energy Council

Nestled on the southern shore of Lake Michigan near Indiana Dunes National Park, Michigan City, Indiana is one of the latest SolSmart Silver designees. This city of about 30,000 people embraced an innovative way to recruit a diverse solar workforce: the Soul Power program.

Launched by members of the Michigan City community, Soul Power trains local residents for jobs including solar panel installation assistants and solar panel installers. Participants in the program, which targets recruitment efforts to communities of color and low-income communities, go through a rigorous training process. The program is administered by the NAACP LaPorte County Chapter and supported by a diverse group of partners, including the Michigan City Sustainability Commission, WorkOne Indiana (the state workforce development office), Ivy Tech Community College, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 531.

Because of the partnership with the IBEW, graduates of the program finish not only with OSHA certifications and training that prepare them for a job in the solar installation field, but also are on their way to becoming card-carrying trade electricians.

“Building supportive partnerships are key,” says Nancy Moldenhauer, chair of the Michigan City Sustainability Commission. “Together, they made the program work and successful.”
“Having participants complete the program is a wonderful achievement,” says La’Tonya Troutman, founder of the Soul Power program. “However, when participants refer family and friends to the program, it is a delightful compliment and an actual stamp of success.”

“Soul Power graduates are already getting jobs in Northwest Indiana installing utility-scale arrays,” says Donnita Scully, Soul Power project manager. “We have a proliferation of solar array installations happening in Northwest Indiana. As a result, we’re supplying a job need while program graduates living in our community and the surrounding area have access to these high-paying jobs.”

The Sustainability Commission led Michigan City’s push for SolSmart designation to help expand clean energy use in Michigan City, which is also home to a large coal-fired power plant. Other local projects will include installing solar-powered electric vehicle chargers at Washington Park, Beach, and Zoo, near Indiana Dunes National Park, allowing visitors to the park to charge their vehicles before hopping on the trails. Similarly, working with Solar United Neighbors Indiana has allowed the city to move forward with residential solar and provide residents easier access to information and resources.

Engaging young people in a sustainable future is also a key part of the Sustainability Commission’s work. In fact, four seats on the 13-seat Commission are reserved for students, ranging from middle to high school in age. These students each take on a specific project, such as expanding recycling, installing solar panels on city government buildings, and more. “I just know this is just the beginning of what they’re going to be doing for the environment for the rest of their lives,” Moldenhauer says. “You score successes this young, and you’ll continue contributing throughout your life.”

Any city, county, or regional organization across the U.S. can achieve SolSmart designation, just as Michigan City has. To get started, contact us here, and begin your own path toward a cleaner energy future. Learn more about the Michigan City Sustainability Commission here, and Soul Power here.

Image at top: Michigan City Sustainability Commissioners from L to R: Faye Moore, La’Tonya Troutman, Mary Cate Neary, Andie Jahnz-Davis, Nancy Moldenhauer, Daisy Lee, Angie Reynolds, and Tim Bauer. Not present: Tristan Bogart, Bailey Chavis, and Clarence Lindon Hulse.