Last week Veterans Green Jobs was privileged to participate in a volunteer solar installation in the Denver area. The six-day event was organized by GRID Alternatives of Oakland, Calif. With an exclusive focus on installing solar technologies in low-income communities, GRID Alternatives is expanding its operations to Colorado.
The nonprofit’s foray into the Colorado market was launched with the installation of solar on 12 homes in Lakewood, putting one more feather in the cap of renewable energy as an important energy source that lowers costs, lowers greenhouse gas emissions and creates jobs.
GRID Alternatives has already brought solar power to over 2,500 low-income families in California with projected energy cost savings of more than $68 million. Here in Lakewood, the solar electric systems on local homes will save 12 families an estimated $360,000 over the systems’ lifetimes. GRID’s volunteer-based model also provides local job trainees and community and corporate volunteers with hands-on solar installation experience.
And that is where Veterans Green Jobs played an important role last week.
A team of 18 volunteers representing Veterans Green Jobs worked alongside volunteers and job training teams from Xcel Energy, the Colorado Energy Office, Solar Energy International, Ecotech Institute, Energy Outreach Colorado, Red Rocks Community College, University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado School of Mines. Veterans Green Jobs also supported GRID’s project by providing the electrical permits for all 12 homes, installing air-conditioning systems, and supporting with warehousing and transportation of solar equipment.
Among the volunteers was Danny Moore, a veteran of the U.S. Army. Danny is currently enrolled in Ecotech Institute’s Renewable Energy Technology program. He signed up for the GRID Alternatives solar installation to get practical field experience that will complement his classroom studies.
“My schooling has set me up for this, but I need more than the schoolhouse knowledge,” Danny said. He worked with his team members to install rails and lay out solar arrays, and also did wiring and junction box installations.
After graduation from Ecotech in April 2013, Danny plans to look for a career in “the green industry” – and finds the solar industry particularly well suited to his interests protecting the environment, serving local communities and reducing dependence on foreign oil.
Danny sees long-term benefits of getting into this field now. “Our primary energy sources are coal and gas. But someday we’ll run out. We need a balanced energy plan, and renewable energy is part of that.”
High veteran unemployment is a concern for Danny – and he believes in taking advantage of new and growing markets to help fill the employment gap. “The renewable energy market is burgeoning, and there is a lot of room for veterans to enter it. Veterans are a good fit because they are team players, hard workers, dependable, and they like a challenge. They are also looking for ways to continue serving the country. Solar gives me, as a veteran, a sense of a continued mission,” he said.
GRID Alternatives’ solar installation last week was generously funded by Wells Fargo, which provided a $2 million grant to help GRID expand its efforts to a national level. Habitat for
Humanity of Metro Denver was another critical partner in the project. Thirteen years ago, Habitat had constructed the 12 homes receiving the solar installations.
At a media event on Thursday, Rick Garcia, regional director for the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, spoke about the importance of ensuring access to alternative energy for both low-income and higher equity homes. “Solar power lowers energy costs and increases disposable income – making more money available to put back into the economy,” he said.
Other featured speakers included Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy; Heather Lafferty, executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver; Senator Mark Udall’s office; Ashley Grosch of Wells Fargo; Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s office; and a resident of one of the homes receiving services. All speakers offered overlapping remarks about the important role renewable energy plays in reducing energy consumption, lowering energy costs, supporting the environment, creating jobs, and improving quality of life for all residents.
Energy efficiency combined with alternative energy is a proven way to help hard working Colorado families achieve lower energy bills and greater security in spite of volatile energy prices. As one of the largest providers of home energy, health and safety services to Colorado’s low-income communities, Veterans Green Jobs will continue to look for ways to support GRID Alternatives as it expands into Colorado.