Category Archives: Impact Power Solutions

The Way to Undo Systemic Racism is by Aligning our Interests

Author: Ralph Jacobson

It took a meeting with a union organizer and our eight crew members to open my eyes as to how my crew’s narratives about the world differed from mine.

As an electrical contractor, I am a signatory to the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) contract, I had recruited and hired these men for my company from the Black community to install solar arrays.  I was planning to organize each of them into the electrical apprenticeship program which would get them started on careers as electricians. Solar installation has been deemed electrical work by the Minnesota Board of Electricity, so being an electrician gives access to a lot of work in this field.

But one after another, each one said, “I don’t want to spend five years of my life being ordered around by middle-aged white electricians. No thanks!” As that sunk in, I realized that to them, this pathway looked like indentured servitude, of which generations of Black people have experienced too much. “Been fooled before, not this time!” This was my rude awakening to the narrative that they carry, and some darned good direct feedback!

My story about trade unions begins with my grandfather, who was the first business agent of the Ironworkers Local #512 when it was organized under the AFL-CIO in the 1930’s. Following him, my dad and my uncles all made careers in ironwork. They had good jobs, solidly blue-collar middle class. Then  what was up with the members of the installation team? Didn’t a union electrical career look good to them? A friend from the Northside clued me in: up until the 1930’s, contractors up north would sometimes hire skilled Black workers from down south for lower wages. The narrative the members of the installation team brought into the conversation is that the trade unions were organized to keep Black workers out. 

These men  took pride in their work; and loved that they were making a difference in the world. A lot of the work of installing solar panels is actually skilled labor work and not electrical, but it is all covered under the union contract. So now I was in trouble with the union because I had hired non-union workers who were not interested in the path to membership that was offered. I began to wonder if there are any alternatives – what about a laborer’s union track? Again, each one said, “I could do that.” A white guy might not catch the difference: it would seem like a parallel role, not a subservient one, to the electrical work. 

There has been talk for a while about creating a “construction electrician” track for just this purpose. This has met with resistance from the rank and file electricians because they don’t want to give up work that they and their forerunners fought for. I don’t find that to be unreasonable – most electricians have seen times when work was scarce. 

It is not my intention to start blaming the union or anybody else, but here is a situation that clearly illustrates the difficulty of rooting out systemic racial bias, once we go from setting a broad intention, to actually digging down and finding that root to pull out. We find that there is no one person or rule to go after, but a whole lot of reasonable people just doing their jobs. However, we are up against attitudes on all sides, and each one has some history to reckon with. 

Systemic racism is so pervasive in our society that most of us find it impossible to find a way to get started on that kind of work. We each have a lot of work to do in the circles that we operate in, where we can have an impact. Thinking about where attitudes come from may give us a pathway to solutions, like the little piece of yarn sticking out of the sweater, that you pull on and the knitted structure starts to unravel. An attitude that makes me not want to share comes from a place of fear and anxiety, even if one’s family has been blessed with having enough for generations. The fear is vestigial, but it runs deep, and it can influence our behavior towards other people. Helping someone soften that kind of an attitude usually can’t be done in one swift move, it takes time. I was reminded by a friend who works in a factory that when people who were different from each other, worked side-by-side, they got to know each other. Their attitudes softened as they became real people in each other’s eyes. 

A potential way out of my impasse came up recently, when I received a call from an officer at a large electrical company, which is a union shop. He wanted to get some insight about why the union shops are not getting much market share in the burgeoning solar industry. We had a chance to discuss some economic realities, that perhaps having higher-paid electricians doing all of the labor work on a solar installation is pricing them out of the market. We agreed that if he could support the creation of a construction electrician track, his pricing could be more competitive, and his electricians would see  more work in the solar field. 

This change could show up to the electricians as an opportunity for new work, and not as a need to give up some work. It could make it easier for some union members to soften their attitudes, because their interest in solar work would align with the creation of a track under the union contract that would be more acceptable to a group of people that the members of the installation team spoke for. I find it encouraging to think that the interests of these two groups could be aligned, and I view this is an example of where the real work needs to be done in order to move from well-stated intentions to actually taking down oppressive barriers to full participation of Black people in the economy.

We’re not there yet, but there is already a lesson in this for me. If we can find a way to align the interests for all of those involved, so that change shows up as opportunity, more people may be willing to look beyond their deeply emotional attitudes, and work together to undo structures that exclude or reduce opportunity for people based on the outdated notion of “race”. We can find ways to align our interests in such a way that everyone can benefit.

[Ralph Jacobson (ralphj@ips-solar.com) is the Founder of IPS Solar and Chief Innovation Officer of IPS Development, a 30-year solar development company in Roseville, Minnesota, and was the founding Board Chair of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association.]

Net Metering: What is it & why does it Matter?

What is Net Metering?

Net metering allows solar system owners to send extra energy they produce into the power grid. So if the system produces more than what they use, the energy sent into the grid is credited. Basically meaning their electric meter runs in reverse. 

 

But Don’t be Fooled.

The promise of earning additional income from the practice is nearly a myth. While it provides FANTASTIC credits & savings to your bill, your system usually won’t produce more than you use.

 

Why is it Important?

  • Firstly, it allows you to save more on utility bills with clean energy.
  • Secondly, it increases the amount of energy that the utility grid receives from renewable sources. 
  • Thirdly, it protects the power grid, allowing utilities to better manage peak loads.
  • Lastly, it increases clean energy demand, creating jobs. 

 

A Brief History of Net Metering

Beginning in the late ’70s, Steven Strong installed 2 solar systems, but he forgot to tell the utility company that his system fed excess power into the power grid.

Fortunately, it all worked, and as a result, several officials from the state and utility company were invited to the grand opening of the projects. As a result of hearing the state officials applaud Strong’s innovation, the utility company ultimately shared their praise. 

After a very positive PR response, clean energy companies across the US adopted the practice. Later on, Strong won several awards from federal agencies and was dubbed “Hero of the Planet” by Time Magazine. 

 

US States/territories with Net Metering Laws

In our home state of Minnesota, clients are only billed for their net usage. When excess energy is generated during the day, the utility company has to pay the market rate when crediting their bill.

Source: (Solar Power Worlddsireusa.org)

 

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  • Alaska
  • American Samoa
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Guam
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Maryland

 

  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma

 
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Impact Power Solutions is happy to provide solar development services in Minnesota and across the Midwest. If you’re ready to start saving with solar, feel free to contact us or get a quote.  Being the #1 solar developer in the Midwest, our process has constantly improved for over 25 years to meet your needs. 

IPS Solar is now Impact Power Solutions

 

IPS Solar is now Impact Power Solutions.

We are proud to share that we have a new name and brand identity! It’s a different look, but rest assured, our core beliefs haven’t changed at all. Our unwavering commitment to our values, our customers and our mission remains the same.

All companies work to generate profits and create value, but the best run-companies do more. They have a broader, more complete view of corporate responsibility that is focused on creating value for all. That mindset has helped pilot our business for 30 years, emphasizing long-term success over short-term gains. Now, as our company enters this exciting new era, we feel that it’s time to update our name and mission to reflect those beliefs. 

We believe our new name, Impact Power Solutions, better embodies who we are, what we believe in, and how we help our clients succeed. As we grow, so does the impact we have on our clients, the communities we serve, and the climate. We are dedicated to maximizing that impact on and off the balance sheet.

That means continuing current initiatives like our Sunrise Educational Program and our efforts promoting local workforce development, while starting new ones like our partnership with the American Forests Organization to plant one tree for every kilowatt of solar we install.  

Company founder Ralph Jacobson is taking on a new role as Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer.  This will allow him to expand his efforts with under-represented communities.  Ralph is working on phase two of the Red Lake Solar project this year, bringing in tribal members to learn about solar technology and career pathways while installing panels on roofs. 

Our core purpose – to build a better future by providing access to renewable energy – has always been the foundation of our success, and will remain the cornerstone of who we are as we take on a new name and look. 

We’d like to extend a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all of the clients and partners who have helped us make the last 30 years a success. We can’t wait for the next 30!