Catawba Energy Corps Intern Gains Valuable Experience at Solar Farm
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 2, 2011
By Kathy Chaffin
For Logan Stephens, the Oct. 10 opening ceremonies for Mayberry Solar in Mount Airy was a proud moment in his new career.
The 1.2-megawatt solar farm was under development by O2 Energies of Cornelius when Stephens, who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last year with an environmental science degree, started an internship there on March 24. He was among 13 paid interns/fellows placed with green energy-related businesses and organizations by the Center for the Environment at Catawba College as part of the Catawba Energy Corps program.
The program was funded with a $184,000 grant the Center received from the N.C. Energy Office of the N.C. Department of Commerce, which is leading the state’s transition toward sustainability.
Joel Olsen, founder and managing director of O2 Energies, says he was notified about the Energy Corps program following contacts he had established with the Center for the Environment. “I had met Dr. Wear at a state conference and heard about the Center for the Environment,” he says, “and we had kept in touch ever since.”
After attending an orientation on the program, Olsen returned to the Catawba campus with representatives of other green energy employers to interview recent graduates. Stephens, who is from the High Point-Greensboro area, says the interview slots for O2 Energies were already filled when he stopped by to add his name, but he left his resume and contact information with Olsen anyway
Stephens interviewed with several other companies and was a finalist for a couple of positions, but ended up receiving a call from Olsen asking him to come to his office for an interview. “We found Logan to be a good fit,” Olsen says, “and because of the introduction made by the Center for the Environment, we agreed to have him start as an intern on March 24.”
Olsen says Stephens helped with the paperwork and various other duties involved with the Mayberry Solar project. As part of his internship, Stephens sent a weekly journal entry to the Center on what he had done as well as information on the environmental impact of the projects on which he was working.
As part of the Energy Corps program, Wear, along with Center staffers Dr. Francis Koster and Dan Robertson, took Stephens and the other interns and fellows on educational outings, including a tour of Duke Energy’s large solar farm in Davidson County. The Energy Corps program also provided the funds for them to attend the annual Energy Conference hosted by the State Energy Office in Raleigh, where they served as volunteers.
At the end of Stephens’ internship, Olsen offered him a full-time job in project development. Olsen arranged for Stephens to receive the training required for credentialing by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners so he could work with contractors on the construction phase of solar farms.
“Logan has been a real asset to the company,” he says, “especially in developing Mayberry Solar. We would not have found him had it not been for the internship program.”
Wear and Craig Midgett, one of two fellows placed with the Center through the Energy Corps program, were among about 150 people who attended the opening ceremonies for the solar farm.
“It’s great that we were able to provide this opportunity to Logan,” Wear says. “We also provided an opportunity for O2 Energies to have an excellent intern that was enthusiastic and highly engaged, and we did it because of a grant we received from the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Energy Office.”
Midgett, whose fellowship with the Center will continue through next March, says it was obvious by watching Olsen and Stephens interact that they work well together. “I think Logan was excited to be working for O2 Energies and felt very invested in the Mayberry Solar project,” he says, “and Joel was happy to have him. It was a very positive experience for everyone involved.”
Stephens says he is grateful to the Center for the Environment for providing him the opportunity to obtain the internship — and ultimately — full-time employment with O2 Energies.
“A big thumbs up for getting this program started,” he says. “I consider myself very lucky,” he says. “Programs like this give people who are just out of college meaningful work experience in the field and companies an opportunity to hire them.”
The $5 million solar farm was constructed on six acres of buffer land surrounding Mount Airy’s municipal wastewater treatment plant. Olsen says the project provided work for 15 contractors in Surry County and more than 100 individuals.
In addition, he says Mayberry Solar will provide ongoing work for others such as security officers, maintenance workers and electrical contractors.
Duke Energy and ElectriCities will purchase the renewable energy credits and clean electricity generated by the solar farm.
The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country. For more information, visit www.centerfortheenvironment.org or www.campaignforcleanair.org.