Solar job fairs attract hundreds

More than 800 people hope to land jobs to turn the California Valley into one of the state’s major renewable power hubs. That’s how many people attended three job fairs this week — on the Carrizo Plain, in San Luis Obispo and in Paso Robles — for approximately 400 temporary construction jobs building the Topaz Solar Farm on the eastern edge of the Carrizo Plain.

First Solar plans to break ground in September or October on the three-year, 3,500-acre project, which will create enough energy to power 160,000 homes, and San Luis Obispo County residents will receive priority in hiring.

The 550-megawatt solar farm is the second industrial-scale solar project approved for the Carrizo Plain. Sun Power’s 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch was also approved by county supervisors earlier this year, and more than 200 attended a job fair last month to fill local positions for that project.

First Solar project manager Justin Bloch said though First Solar and Sun Power are competitors, they are working toward the same goal of making renewable energy available as quickly as possible.

“The real competition is oil, gas and coal,” he said.

With the construction industry hit particularly hard locally and county unemployment at 10 percent, the total of 600 jobs from the two projects could theoretically drop countywide unemployment by almost half a percent, using June statistics provided by the state.

Neither a high school diploma nor a college degree is required for the positions, but applicants need to have held a job sometime in the last three years. Of the 400 general labor and operating positions being offered, about 150 are union jobs for electricians.

Job applications are still available at the Topaz Solar website.

Project staffing manager Adam Mering said that construction experience and especially solar experience is a plus, but most of all, “We are looking for reliable, dependable workers.”

He added that making a good impression at a job fair can be “valuable” in obtaining a job.

Applicant J.C. Caldwell, a member of the California Conservation Corps vocational program, has general labor experience and is applying to jobs across Central and Southern California.

During his interview at the Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo, “They asked me am I afraid of hard work?” Caldwell noted. “I said ‘No.’ ”