Covering the Land of Lincoln

Peoria Students Get Hands On Renewables Experience

This is the seventh in a series of blogs celebrating the grant projects funded through our Clean Air Act settlement with the owners of the ED Edwards coal-fired power plant outside Peoria, Illinois. The settlement requires the plant to close by the end of 2022 and makes $8.6 million available for local job training, lung health, energy efficiency, solar energy, and bus electrification projects. Each blog features the great work one of settlement the grantees is doing to promote public health and quality of life in the Peoria, Illinois area.

At Woodruff Career and Technical Center, a public vocational high school in Peoria, Illinois, teacher Michael Brix is ​​welcoming his second cohort of students to a two-year Renewable Energy Training course that the Peoria Public Schools District (PPS) launched with a grant from the Edwards Settlement Fund. The training grant complements a second Edwards grant that PPS has used to install a solar array on the Center’s roof, and the students’ coursework includes inspecting the panels and monitoring their performance.

Solar panels on the roof of Woodruff Career and Technical Center in Peoria, IL.

Woodruff was built in 1937 and served until 2010 as one of four general high schools run by the Peoria Public Schools. In 2011, it was converted into a specialized career and technical school where students based at PPS’s three general high schools can go to take vocational and trade-oriented classes. The programs offered at Woodruff include construction, barbering, cosmetology, information technology, and landscape design, among others.

The Renewable Energy Training course is designed to provide in-depth and hands-on training, and the students in each section spend more than two hours with Mr. Brix each school day. To complement their classroom sessions, Mr. Brix’s students take field trips to view renewables in action—solar panels being installed in 100-acre cornfields, wind turbines running nearby, the electric bus Peoria’s public transit district (CityLink) recently put into service with support from a separate Edwards Fund grant, and even the electric car Mr. Brix recently traded his truck in for. The course also places students in internships to acquire work-based knowledge in the renewables sector. The course’s ultimate goal, consistent with Woodruff’s mission, is for students to graduate ready to enter either a two or four-year postsecondary experience or a living-wage career path in a course-related field such as solar panel installation (construction), solar power monitoring (informational technology), architecture, or project management. With a growing demand for jobs in the renewable sector, the training Mr. Brix is ​​providing at Woodruff should prove invaluable for students.

Mr Brix, who worked in construction before moving into his teaching role, is incredibly enthusiastic about renewables and all they have to offer his students. His enthusiasm has paid off; every student in the inaugural cohort for the Renewable Energy Training course has chosen to re-enroll and complete the curriculum’s second year. We thank Mr. Brix and Peoria Public Schools for their investment in Peoria’s clean energy transition and look forward to seeing where the students take their training after graduation.

The other Edwards settlement-funded projects include a solar array at Peoria’s Romain Arts and Culture Community Center; the expansion of a job-assistance program run by Peoria’s Jubilee Ministries; the electric buses that two Peoria-area school districts have added to their fleets; an increased grant for PeoriaCorps’ Green Infrastructure training program; the launch of a new all-electric bus for Peoria’s transit district; and the training of two yoga instructors at a local yoga studio. NRDC and its coplaintiffs chose the projects with the help of their community partners Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance, Illinois People’s Action, and the Peoria NAACP. For a full project list, visit EdwardsCleanAirSettlement.org.

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