“I wanted to do something my children and grandchildren would be proud of," says Alan Savard.
Alan Savard (second from the right) at the Iron & Earth Solar Training Program in Maskwacis
After decades of working on offshore oil platforms around the world, Alan Savard had enough. Tired of oil spills polluting the marine environment and his company’s denial of responsibility, Alan began to consider a career change.
Equally important in Alan's decision were the long stretches working away from home that ruined his family life and marriage. “I didn’t see my daughter for the first six years of her life and once went two months without contact with my family, when phone lines at my work site were down," he says. "I lost friends on the job and suffered PTSD from the unsafe things I had to do at work. A big paycheck makes you look the other way, but I knew I didn’t want to go back to that."
That’s why he jumped at the opportunity to participate in Iron & Earth’s solar training program at Maskwacis College, in central Alberta. In collaboration with the Cree Four First Nations, on whose land the College sits, trainees were taught how to install solar panels on the College’s rooftop. The program taught Alan about solar installation, the technical side of how solar power works and it helped him to visualize running his own company. He really enjoyed the program, and felt he was challenged, since hadn't been in school in a while.
Alan was surprised at how thin and small modern solar panels are, when he first saw them at Maskwacis. “I thought they were more indestructible, but as soon as you put them in the sun, the kilowatts are right there,” he says. “I learned to respect power, and what wattage and amps can do to you.” He’s since had conversations with the Electrical Contractors Association of Alberta about how to get an electricians apprenticeship, with the goal of eventually becoming an electrician.
After completing the program’s five days of in-class learning followed by five days of hands-on training in installing solar panels, Alan was inspired to start researching what it would take to start his own solar power company. This research included importing materials and supplies from reliable suppliers, liability and insurance costs and the general state of the solar market in Alberta. “It opened my eyes to possibilities,” he says of the training program. “I had always thought of starting my own solar installation company and now my interest really peaked.”
For his new company, Alan plans to act as a broker, by managing crews to install solar panels on behalf of other companies. His idea is to hire people who are less fortunate and lack experience, but who want to get in on the ground floor. With strong growth in the solar sector and despite Alberta's moratorium on new renewable energy projects, he believes he has a shot at success. “I went to a motocross race in Calgary and half the RVs there had 4x4 solar panels to power up, so they didn't have to mess around with large generators,” he says, as an indicator of solar power’s growing popularity.
Another business idea he is working on is to install a solar farm on land that he owns and sell the power it generates back to the surrounding town. Alan sees “solar farms popping up all over the place”, which is why he wants to get the project going soon, before there’s too much competition. While securing the funding needed to start his solar company, Alan is currently in a new job that allows him to spend more time with his partner as well as outdoors on his favourite activities of dirt biking, camping and fishing.
For more information about Iron & Earth’s training opportunities in clean energy, contact us at [email protected] or 778-771-0852. To search for renewable energy jobs or a career Mentor, visit our Climate Career Portal.
Iron & Earth’s training programs are funded in part by the Government of Canada's Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program.
The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.