Solar Energy International (SEI)’s mission is to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower people, communities and businesses worldwide. Since our founding in 1991 as 501(c) educational non-profit, we have trained over 40,000 people from around the world in how to design, install, and maintain renewable energy systems.
As our own community transitions from a coal mining region, there is a pressing need to create pathways for Delta and Montrose County students to gain 21st century job skills and access new educational opportunities. Today we are presented with an opportunity to engage the wider community around a vision of strengthened local economies and energy independence through developing our own energy resources. As educators, we passionately believe that our youth must be equipped with both an awareness and training to enter into this dialogue.
In 2014, SEI’s newly-formed local outreach effort under the Economic Revitalization Team began a series of campaigns to increase the accessibility and affordability of solar energy for our rural LMI community as a means of economic development and energy assistance, including coordinating USDA REAP funding for local farmers, getting C-PACE adopted and working with local banks to create low-interest RE loans, conducting several Solarize campaigns, marketing energy efficiency solutions and rebates, and ensuring local students have the tools to access a burgeoning regional clean economy. The overarching goal has been to raise awareness and adoption of local energy like solar to empower our community, first by supporting a nascent market and also by supporting jobseekers.
In a partnership with the local Delta County School District, Solar Energy International launched in fall 2015 a pilot Solar Energy Training (SET) in the Paonia High School to introduce students to sustainability issues and renewable energy, and to equip students with training suited for entry-level positions in the solar industry. As part of the Economic Revitalization Team’s job training and educational outreach initiatives, the first SET class has since expanded to other area high schools and is scheduled again for a third straight school year, including the original high school were several students have since been employed and pursued further technical training.
In addition to utilizing Solar Energy International’s industry-leading curriculum and hands-on exercises, the SET program, led by the Economic Revitalization Team, has worked to deploy a pilot 10 kW PV system at the Paonia High School, scheduled for completion this spring. Designed in-house, with assistance from local installers, the school district and contributions from the local utility and grantors, we envision a unique opportunity for ongoing experiential learning, inviting past and present students to assist in the install where permitted, and continuing to monitor production for future learning. Such an installation will allow area schools to access cost-saving solutions like solar for the first time, a challenge in an era of reduced extraction industry severance taxes. This cost-savings also allows schools to invest more resources into their students with STEM offerings and pathways for post-secondary vocational training for local students, like the SET program. The 10 kW installation is the culmination of SET’s innovative partnership, providing an experiential education and energy awareness not only for students, but for a community learning to access local, clean energy as part of its economic reemergence. Much like we have done for community businesses, farms and homes, the Economic Revitalization Team is expanding solar to our schools and the students who will come of age in a new energy paradigm.
Despite the delays in the first installation (due to a hardware donor’s bankruptcy) we have sought to expand solar to more regional schools, with the support of the school district and utility. The utility, Delta-Montrose Electric Association, at the request of their board, has even asked us to expand the solar installations to additional high schools. Amid ongoing initiatives, this has been something the Economic Revitalization Team has been exploring. We are excited to present our current progress and project proposal to the Solar in Your Community Challenge team, not only for the benefit of our rural community and students, but as a model for other communities to pursue.