Monday, Nov. 30, 2015 | 2 p.m.
For rooftop solar panel installers, walking on shingles or Spanish tile on sloped roofs is second nature, but it’s not an innate skill.
That’s why SolarCity, a solar panel leasing company with more than 2,000 Nevada employees, will acclimate employees to working on roofs at a new 13,000-square-foot training center in Las Vegas.
The facility, which had its grand opening today, will train up to 80 employees a week from Nevada, Colorado, Texas and Arizona.
“It’s like test driving a car,” said Justin Overlay, a SolarCity employee who started with the company in October.
The training facility has large-scale models of the types of roofs installers typically work on in Las Vegas.
Some of the models are less than a foot off the ground and are set at a slight tilt. Others are built atop replica facades of houses and slope at a near 45-degree angle.
Strapped into harnesses with ropes connected to the roof, employees look like rock climbers as they scramble over the structures. In the field, they may carry panels that weigh up to 45 pounds and are more than five feet long.
“Panels are heavy. Roofs are high. But when you’re out there, you’ve got to get over those challenges,” said Michael Martin, who started work with SolarCity after returning this summer from a military tour in Afghanistan.
SolarCity’s training facility is one of many investments the company has made in Nevada. It has three warehouses between Las Vegas and Reno.
The training facility opens as the company battles to protect a policy called net metering, which helps cut power bills by paying rooftop solar customers for providing electricity to NV Energy’s grid.
This summer, NV Energy, which pays net metering customers, proposed a policy change that would reduce the money rooftop solar customers receive, saying solar customers impose a cost-burden on nonsolar customers.
The Public Utilities Commission will decide on the future of net metering by Jan. 1.
State lawmakers and representatives from the offices of Gov. Brian Sandoval, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus attended today’s grand opening ceremony for the training facility.
“The opening of this facility means more good jobs in a forward-thinking industry,” said state Sen. Aaron Ford, the Democratic minority leader who represents the neighborhood were it is located.
Nevada congressional candidate and Democratic state Sen. Ruben Kihuen said rooftop solar is an emission-cutting alternative to fossil-fuel energy. “With rooftop solar, not only are we creating jobs, we are cleaning the environment,” he said.