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Chicagoland is Getting a Renewable Energy Training Ground

Drivers passing through south suburban Alsip on I-294 may soon be able to see Chicagoland's green energy future out their car window. Currently under construction, a new renewable energy training field is being added to the IBEW-NECA Technical Institute, a first-of-its kind training ground to give members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers direct experience with alternative energy technology. Running off the technologies it's promoting, the site will be a net-zero facility and generate its own power, even sending some back to the grid.

"It's the only place you can learn how to do all these different things," says lead architect Alan Bombick of Legat Architects. "Other sites are exhibits, where this offers a real demo."

Creating a utility obstacle course, the additions to this 250-acre campus include a 100-foot-tall cell tower for climbing and mounting antennae, 60-foot-tall tower to practice working with wind turbines, a solar car port, a 75-tall miniature turbine, a 250-by-100 foot solar array as well as an angular building with metal and shingle roof panels to help electricians practice installing photovoltaic cells. The building with mock roofs for installation practice looks like a lunar lander, complete with a racing stripe of red LED lights visible from the highway at night, which Bombick modeled after an image of Tesla working with electricity.

"It's very much a standout," he says. "I wanted to take advantage of the high-visibility site near the expressway to call attention to the project."

Expected to be finished shortly and train its first students this fall, the addition will provide a space roughly two-thirds the size of a football field for trainees to learn the greener side of their trade, including how to disassemble and reassemble a car charging station or add a wind turbine to a roof. One building will include inverters and distribution equipment Bombick says showcase next-level technology. He's particularly proud of the value the building provides because it will be a model for the technology it teaches, generating its own power going forward.

"Even with oil prices dropping," he says, "it certainly doesn't alleviate the need for this technology."

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