Category Archives: Impact Power Solutions

30 Years Of Solar Ep. 4: Thank you, Mr. Cartwright!

Michael, students, and the IPS team at the Mounds View High School ribbon cutting.  

Solar for Schools

Michael Cartwright, or Mr. Cartwright as his students know him, has been teaching physics at Mounds View High School for over 25 years. In the summer of 2014, he took a course for teachers at the University of Minnesota that focused on renewable energy and bioproducts. Michael chose to center his research during the course around the environmental and economic opportunities that solar power can provide. 

That research led to a meeting with IPS Chief Development Officer Eric Pasi to discuss options for installing solar panels on Michael’s home. During their conversation, they bonded over their mutual appreciation of Hawaii and talked about some recent rooftop projects IPS had completed with the Chisago Lakes School District. After learning about the opportunities for schools through state legislation and Xcel Energy incentive programs, it seemed to Michael that solar was a great opportunity for Mounds View, economically and educationally.

Michael met with the district’s Assistant Superintendent to discuss solar’s feasibility. It was then brought to the Superintendent and eventually the School Board. After much consideration and research, Mounds View Schools applied for three school projects in a fairly competitive field of requests. This was through the Made in Minnesota program, which used a lottery system to provide incentives to over 1,400 projects in 50 counties to stimulate the growing solar industry. Eventually, after three years of the program, 13 of the school buildings had 40 kW solar arrays operating.

Michael’s fascination with solar didn’t end there. He wanted to utilize the rooftop panels to help teach his students about renewable energy. He leant his expertise to IPS and helped us create the Sunrise Program, even taking a sabbatical from teaching in order to give the program his full attention.  

The Sunrise Program offers complete STEM programs designed to spark students’ curiosity and give them the tools they will ultimately need for success, offering schools three approaches. classroom presentations, fully developed STEM curricula and professional development – that can be mixed and matched to best serve each district. The program runs annual workshops for Minnesota educators, several of which Michael has led himself.  

IPS and the Sunrise Program wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for Michael’s enthusiasm and drive to educate future generations about the importance of solar energy. We’re grateful for his exceptional work, and are inspired by the impact he makes on students, schools, the community, and environment every day. Thank you!

2021 marks a major milestone for IPS, and we’d be thrilled to have you join us in celebrating 30 years of solar. Learn more about the event RSVP here!

The American Jobs Plan & Path to 100: Clean Energy Connection EP. 3

(Interview starts at 0:24:10)

 

Eric Pasi, Impact Power Solutions

Eric Pasi, Chief Development Officer, IPS 

As Chief Development Officer for Impact Power Solutions, Pasi has helped organizations analyze and adopt clean energy strategies nationwide.  He is extremely passionate about renewable power, entrepreneurship and the climate crisis. In 2020, he released his first book called “CleanWave: A Guide to Success in the Green Recovery” where he outlines the past, present, and future of clean tech, and its role in a post-COVID19 and post-George Floyd recovery.  

 

Interview Transcript

Joan: This segment of Joan Esposito live local and progressive is brought to you by impact power solutions. The company that knows clean energy in Illinois and throughout the Midwest. Eric Pasi is the IPS chief development officer. And he joins me. Hello, Eric. How are you?


Eric: Good afternoon. I’m doing fabulous today. Thanks, Joan.


Joan:  At the beginning of the show, Eric, I was talking about some of the things that Joe Biden has been mentioning in the last couple of weeks. I know we talked last month about his infrastructure plan, and what it would mean for clean energy and what stood out to you about what Biden has been talking about.


Eric: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of things to be excited about in the American Jobs Plan. And there’s been particular increased interest in the legislation this last week since the jobs numbers April jobs numbers came out last last week. Kind of as a reminder, the Labor Department reported slower than expected growth with payrolls increasing by only about 250,000, while the unemployment rate rose to 6.1%. And estimates have been hoping for 1 million new jobs and unemployment below 6%. And so many eyes are now on the American Jobs Plan, which is a pretty catchy name for the infrastructure bill. This is coming on, coming on the heels of the recovery plan, which is passed earlier this year. And so the job measures here are meant to address deeper, more fundamental infrastructure opportunities, as opposed to the shorter, shorter term stopgap measures of the recovery point.


Joan: One of the things that Joe Biden was talking about, oh, just in the last week or so was the idea of putting in windmills, wind farms out in the water. What do you think about that?


Eric: Yeah, offshore wind. It’s been something that Europe has adopted at a much faster pace than America. And we don’t have to look much further than Martha’s Vineyard to understand why folks that have keen interest in political power are able to push back on progress. And this is something that is coming to America and may even be coming to a great lake near you soon. But it’s a fantastic opportunity. There’s nothing else that we’re really doing in the water, we might as well harness the power of ocean winds and increase energy.


Joan: Now, I think of windmills as those things in the Netherlands,  where they’re surrounded by tulips and everything? Are those the big white things with the skinny little blades? Do we still call those windmills? Or is there another name for them?


Eric: They’re still windmills. Wind turbines, I guess, are maybe more accurate.


Joan: That sounds much more scientific, Eric. I like that. Write that down, wind turbines. What about Joe Biden mentioning a plan to create 1000’s of new electric charging stations?  I’ve got to tell you, that was one of the big concerns I had in buying an electric car. I’ve wanted an electric car for years. But it just seemed like up until recently. It was just you couldn’t go any length because you didn’t especially if you got away from an urban area. You weren’t sure you’d be able to charge it. That’s an important part of his plan.


Eric: Yeah, I’m right there with you, Joan. I do have an electric vehicle. And I was recently on a road trip and, and felt what they refer to as range anxiety. And so, in the new plan, the Biden administration is proposing 500,000 new charging stations all across America, particularly on kind of well traveled arteries, road roadways, and that’s absolutely going to transform the the opportunity to charge and in the way that we the ways that we charge and go a long way to to reducing that range anxiety.


Joan: I’ve been kind of surprised. Well, I shouldn’t be. Joe Biden’s infrastructure package really is full of all kinds of programs and monies and ideas for every state. Every state is going to benefit and fixing up the bridges and fixing up the roads and all these other things. And yet it still has Republican opposition. What’s going on? Eric, do you think it’ll pass? What has to happen?


Eric: Yeah, there’s some challenges. Absolutely. And there’s pretty much united opposition, as you mentioned, to any legislation, let alone infrastructure from Senate Republicans. And we foresee this playing out. Most political pundits and folks in the industry can see this playing out similar to the American recovery plan, where really the only viable pathway forward is via a budget reconciliation process, with a very, very outside chance of reform, or filibuster reform. But we have not seen signals from Senate Democrats, especially the moderates, like Joe Manchin, that reform is on the table.


Joan: Yeah, I think it’s going to end up being like the COVID relief package, where Republicans vote against it. I can’t remember at last count how many different republican officeholders have posted on social media, what great things are coming to their state and to the residents of their states because of this COVID relief package that they didn’t vote for, that they voted against. But now it’s going to be like, hey, look at look at I did this. Well, not exactly. One of the things that I want you to go over with me again, the Illinois path to 100 bill. Give me again, the cliff cliff notes on that.


Eric:  Absolutely. It’s worth mentioning, actually, a new study came out today by Vibrant Clean Energy – and it found that deploying eight and a half gigawatts of local solar, which is the Path 100 bill, would save Illinois ratepayers just over $2 billion by 2030, and 3.4 billion by 2050. And so that equates to about $15, a month off of Illinois average household electricity bill by 2030, and $39 by 2050. So right now, state legislators have a really timely opportunity. The rooftop and community solar projects in the state have been in limbo for over a year. And when I need to pass this legislation, again, kind of good name, path to 100, 100% clean energy. And without the legislation, the industry really has a slim, dim pathway forward. And so several different pieces of legislation, including governor Pritzker, his energy bill, the consumers and climate first act are under consideration. So both of those aspects are under consideration. And, we’re all hopeful that the Illinois legislature will act on an omnibus clean energy package before the state legislature legislative session adjourns on May 31. So a lot be optimistic about


Joan: Yeah, for the big proponents down in Springfield for this?


Eric: Well, absolutely. The private sector and consumers have had their voices very loud at the state legislature. This year, there are bipartisan bills. And an industry has been working hard to make sure that really, this isn’t just a one sided issue. This is a multifaceted issue. And so we would absolutely encourage your listeners to visit Illinoissolar.org and click on the Path to 100 link. That’ll take you to a list of your legislators with a script so you can either call them or reach out by email. Anything that you can do to support this legislation is important to foster the fledgling renewable energy industry in the state.


Joan: This segment of Joan Esposito live local and progressive is sponsored by Impact Power Solutions, the company that knows clean energy and Illinois and throughout the Midwest. I’m talking to Eric Pasi, the chief Development Officer. And, Eric, I want to go over with you the basics of community solar, and the questions people have about it, because it’s something that I’ve talked to people about on this show before and I’m still not really sure I grasp exactly what it means. Can you explain it again?


Eric: Yeah, community solar allows businesses, residents and municipalities to participate in solar power, even if they don’t have the resources to install panels on their own home or building. If you can kind of conceptualize it, it’s typically produced off site, typically on farms, solar farms, and bill credits are then generated by combat or the utility for subscribers to that particular project. Consumers then pay back a portion of those savings to the solar operator 90%, for instance, and leave about 10% savings for the participants. So it really does democratize energy in a way that hasn’t been done before allowing people to kind of control their energy bills with solar power, even if they again, don’t have room for panels or can’t install panels on their own property.


Joan: I recently saw the term solar gardens. Do they mean solar farms? Is that the same thing?


Eric: Yeah, it’s somewhat similar. It was originally coined in Minnesota community solar gardens, it may have even had a basis earlier than earlier than that. But that program, which is the largest program in the country, coined this idea of kind of like a community garden, you’ve planted vegetables and other other things that are then shared within the community with others that are kind of also working in the garden. And so the secondary idea behind solar Gardens is that in the state of Illinois, it’s actually a law for solar projects, solar farms, to plant pollinator friendly seed mixes and habitat for pollinators, which is really cool. And some of the work that I’ve done across the country and mainly in the Midwest, we’ve actually assisted beekeepers to install apiaries around our project sites. And that honey gets made into delicious things like beer and cider. And, and been to use at local restaurants too. And so it’s a trend, not just thinking about solar as a kind of an industrial thing right in, in farmland, and more thinking about is regenerative, that helps the ecosystem almost as much as saving electricity and breathing electricity.


Joan: Okay, we’re talking now to our audience,  just regular folks. Some of them, maybe ComEd customers, some of them may be customers of different electric utilities. How do we get involved in community solar? Do we have to look it up online? Is it a different company? Do we go through our utility company?


Eric: Luckily, there’s a lot of there are a lot of providers out there for folks to reach out to our website goes over very well, the basics of how community solar works. But Illinoissolar.org also has some of these resources too. It’s an industry that’s been around for quite a while, I think folks would be surprised to know that the first community solar projects started popping up in the country around 10 years ago, so we’ve gone through these programs and these processes before. Consumers can have a lot of confidence when they interact with businesses in the space.


Joan: And if somebody does want to put solar panels on their roof, and install one of those great, ginormous Tesla batteries in their house, can people generate in the Midwest with all of our crappy weather? Can you generate enough electricity to get off the grid? Or do you just simply supplement what you would normally get through through a utility?


Eric: Depending on how much energy you use, I mean, if you’re running industrial equipment and doing everything, you might not be able to get to 100%. But the nice thing about solar in Illinois is that if you produce more than you use, which is very typical during the day, you can sell that energy back to the utility and they’re required by law to buy back that electricity at retail rate. So the solar on your home, usually out working during the day, you’re earning a credit, while your solar panels are hard at work. And then in the evening, you’re drawing off of that credit. And so typically, for most homeowners, you’re going to see, depending on how much roof space you have, again, and how much energy you use, at the end of the month, the goal is always to try to get to 100% of what you consumed to be provided by solar.


Joan: I remember, I was looking online at Tesla’s and I think there’s a Tesla that you can order that has a solar roof, a solar panel roof, I thought that was, I thought that was pretty interesting. Because  solar is something that I think is  for anybody who’s buying a house, and is planning to live there for a while. And because I think the last I heard it was probably if you’re going to really invest in a lot of solar panels, it takes about five years to start seeing all of your return back and start really kind of getting ahead of the game. But I can’t imagine buying a house anywhere in this country, without trying to make it energy efficient. And whether that’s solar panels, or some of the other technology, there’s just such amazing technology, other than solar panels, what technology are you most excited about?


Eric: I think the majority of clean energy professionals are really excited about batteries. And you mentioned it at the top with the power wall. The reason why we’re excited about that is because most of the generation of clean electricity is done using intermittent resources like the sun, right? Sun is only out if we’re lucky, 12 to 18 hours a day. The wind is only blowing, a portion of the time. And so with the advent of next generation batteries, we’re gonna see the ability to smooth out the generation of these assets. And so, we’re looking at elements like graphene, new lithium ion technology. And really, with all that excitement, we’re seeing certain areas of the country including areas in California where the mining of some of these advanced resources is going to be extremely important from a national security and just an outlook standpoint. So it’s going to create a lot of jobs. And there’s a lot of excitement around our ability to get to 100% clean energy, which these batteries are going to be vital in order for us to do that.


Joan: Last time we talked, I don’t think I mentioned that you put out a book, Cleanwave: a Guide to Success in the Green Recovery. Tell me about your book.


Eric:  Yeah, so thanks for the plug, Joan. The book’s website is cleanwavebook.com and it really goes over the past, present and future of clean energy, with actionable advice for career seekers. I did this in response to getting a lot of interest and outreach from people that were in my network asking, “Hey what is it that you do what and what opportunities exist in clean energy?” so it’s really kind of a how-to guide for those folks. I pulled that together and it was released late last fall. And, there’s a lot of interviews with other cleantech leaders, and a lot of other information that I think listeners that are interested or curious about a job in renewable energy will find useful

Joan: If Joe Biden gets this infrastructure program pushed through and all of his clean energy programs pushed through, will there be more hires in the jobs you already know about? Or do you think there will be new job categories created?


Eric: Yeah, absolutely. There will be new job categories created. I think a substantial part of this bill will invest in research and development of sectors. So I think about 580 billion, actually, of the infrastructure bill will go towards research and workforce development. And so creating those jobs of the future. So there are definitely jobs that will be developed that haven’t even been contemplated, and will be a direct result of the American jobs plans. But then, yeah, I mean, we definitely see the increase in the amount of existing types of jobs. So solar installer was the fastest growing job. One out of 18 jobs that was produced pre COVID, was in the solar energy industry. And so we’re excited about that, that continued growth. But certainly, with the addition of additional spending on grid upgrades, which has been a major issue trying to onboard all this renewable energy that’s sitting in process, we’ll need some upgrades to the existing grid. And this job, jobs plan provides for that. So yes, we’re very excited about existing jobs, as well as all the ones that are yet to be developed through new and exciting research.


Joan:  Eric, we’re running out of time here, I want to give you an opportunity to pick the one message that you want to leave our listeners with today.


Eric: Yes, and I will highlight again, this new study that came up by Vibrant Clean Energy that really states that now is the time for Illinois to invest in its clean energy future. And so I would encourage folks to please visit Illinoissolar.org and contact your legislator, and legislators in support of the past 100 legislation, it’s gonna be extremely important for the future of Illinois clean energy and, and really the future of the planet.


Joan: Wow, that’s great, that’s a great message to wrap things up with. Eric. Thank you very much. And good luck with the sales of your book, CleanWave: a Guide to Success in the Green Recovery. I really think I will pick it up because I’m gonna be like one of those people that was like, yeah, when I was a little girl, we didn’t have those kinds of jobs. But for young people, this is the world that they want, and it’s the world they’re going to have. And Eric, thank you so much. I appreciate what all you’re doing, and I appreciate your support for WCPT. It’s always fun to talk with you.


Eric: Yes, I’m looking forward to next month already. Thanks, Joan.


Joan: You’re very welcome. Eric is the chief development officer with Impact Power Solutions and they’re a big sponsor and supporter of WCPT. And you know, who doesn’t want to know more about green energy?

 

30 Years Of Solar Ep. 3: Make a Mudslide Shine

A rare IPS photo of a wind turbine.  

Make a Mudslide Shine

Impact Power Solutions is Minnesota’s leading commercial solar developer, but we haven’t always only installed solar. In the mid 2000’s, we installed several wind turbine projects across Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. Renewable wind technology was becoming more affordable and there was interest from many landowners, so it seemed like a natural fit for us.

Unfortunately, product defects caused almost all of the turbines we installed to produce much less energy than originally anticipated. Suddenly, our clients were stuck with large, poorly producing wind turbines that had become eye-sores. After it became clear that no amount of maintenance or repair would get these turbines working properly, we decided to disassemble every single one and replace them with PV solar arrays of a similar size. The new solar arrays were installed at no cost to the clients, and would meet or exceed the original estimated production of the turbines.

Chuck Allen was one of these clients. His wind turbine was installed in 2009 and it was immediately clear that it was not going to meet the original production estimates. We replaced the turbine with a 23 kW solar array, which has exceeded the original production estimates of the turbine. IPS has since narrowed its focus strictly to rooftop and community solar, but we continue to draw on our experience from these projects and the lessons we learned from them. We’re extremely grateful for the patient clients that allowed us to make this right, and we continue to try and make every mudslide shine!

2021 marks a major milestone for IPS, and we’d be thrilled to have you join us in celebrating 30 years of solar. Learn more about the event RSVP here!

Positively Impacting the Environment

Doing Our Part 

Every Earth Day, we are reminded that it is our responsibility to hand over Earth in a healthier form to future generations. Let us work together to make it a better place!

As a part of our partnership with American Forests, IPS is thrilled to announce that we will be contributing one tree sapling for every kilowatt of solar we installed last year. That comes out to over 34,000 trees! According to stats from the US Department of Agriculture, that amount of saplings is enough to cover over 6 acres of forest!

We’re thrilled to do our part for our environment, and help restore forests for future generations to enjoy. We share a heartfelt thank you to our partners and team for making this possible. 

Want to help? We’re actively searching for partners that share our values. As we grow, so does the positive impact we have on our clients, the communities we serve, and the environment. Learn more about our impact.

30 Years Of Solar Ep. 2: Electric Elections

Footage from the installation at Highbridge Power Plant in Saint Paul, MN.  

IPS Rising to the Occasion

In 2008, with election season in full swing, Ralph got a call from an engineer friend at Xcel Energy. The Republican National Convention was scheduled to be held in Saint Paul, Minnesota – and candidates John McCain and Sarah Palin planned to visit Xcel’s nearby High Bridge Power Plant.

Xcel wanted to showcase renewable energy during the visit and asked if IPS could complete an array at the plant beforehand. The initial call was in June and the visit would be in September, which made for a tight timeline. Not shying away from the challenge, Ralph agreed to take on the project.

The system was completed with a week to spare: it was amazing to see how top security clearance could speed up a job. And the candidates each got to shake hands with our governor with the solar arrays as the backdrop.

The array is still producing, IPS still values its relationships with utilities (and both sides of the aisle), and we still get even the most challenging jobs done right and on time!

2021 marks a major milestone for IPS, and we’d be thrilled to have company join us in celebrating 30 years of solar. Learn more about the event RSVP here!

30 Years Of Solar Ep. 1: Sleep In The Rafters

Footage from the project under construction in Pecatonia, IL with some helping hands.  

Our First Solar Project Outside of Minnesota

In 2000, IPS was contacted about installing our first system outside of Minnesota on a farm in Pecatonica, Illinois. There wasn’t a strong market for solar anywhere at the time, but IPS had something that most installers didn’t in that era – a website!

Ralph Jacobson and the farmer connected over the web, then planned the trek to Illinois to install three pole mounted solar arrays next to the landing strip. That’s right – this farmer was also a pilot, flying jumbo-jets to Europe and back for his day job! Ralph and the crew packed their bags to stay on-site during the entire install process and ate nothing but farm fresh meals for a week – except for a few bowls of cocoa puffs for breakfast.

“It was totally different from anything else we’ve worked on before, and definitely a unique experience laying in power cables behind a Ditch-Witch trencher being driven by a jumbo-jet pilot,” Ralph recalls. The farmer and the crew worked together, making use of farming equipment to get the job done right, while finishing it faster than expected.

We don’t have sleepovers with our clients anymore, but we still sleep in the rafters for them when we need to!

2021 marks a major milestone for IPS, and we’d be thrilled to have company join us in celebrating 30 years of solar. Learn more about the event RSVP here!

The Green Economy & Energy Equity: Clean Energy Connection EP. 2

(Interview starts at 1:26:00)

Proponents of the Green Economy & Energy Equity: About the Guests 

Audrey Henderson, Energy News Network

Audrey Henderson, Author, Energy News Network

Audrey is an independent writer and researcher based in the greater Chicago area with advanced degrees in sociology and law from Northwestern University. She specializes in sustainability in the built environment, culture and arts related to policy and related topics. Her work has been featured in Wallpaper magazine, the Chicago Reader, Chicago Architect magazine, Next City, Transitions Abroad, Belt Magazine and other consumer and trade publications.

 

Eric Pasi, Impact Power Solutions

Eric Pasi, Chief Development Officer, IPS 

As Chief Development Officer for Impact Power Solutions, Pasi has helped organizations analyze and adopt clean energy strategies nationwide.  He is extremely passionate about renewable power, entrepreneurship and the climate crisis. In 2020, he released his first book called “CleanWave: A Guide to Success in the Green Recovery” where he outlines the past, present, and future of clean tech, and its role in a post-COVID19 and post-George Floyd recovery.  

 

Interview Transcript

Joan E: This segment of Joan Esposito: Live, local and Progressive is sponsored by Impact Power Solutions, the company that knows clean energy in Illinois and throughout the Midwest. Eric Pasi, the IPS Chief Development Officer, joins us and today we are also joined by Audrey Henderson, who’s an independent writer and researcher. She’s based in the Chicago area and she specializes in writing about sustainability. Hello, Eric. Hello, Audrey. Welcome to our broadcast.

Audrey H: Hello

Eric P: Good afternoon, Joan.

Joan E: One of the things that we were going to talk about today was the idea of energy and equity. Now, Audrey, I know that you’ve done a lot of research into sustainability. Has any of your research touched on this idea of trying to do clean energy in a way that is equitable? And if so, what have you found?

Audrey H: That’s definitely become more prominent recently. As far as I’m concerned, energy and equity go hand in hand. What I’ve found is that energy now is thought of more as just more than just making cars more energy efficient or more gas efficient. It’s really transitioning to a green economy, and adding more opportunity for people of color and people of lower income people to plug into, no pun intended, the economy.

Joan E: Audrey, can you or maybe you Eric, can you define our terms? Because I’ve got to tell you, when somebody says green economy, I’m not always sure exactly what they’re talking about. So I need to know what you would define green economy as, and when you’re talking about increasing jobs, particularly for underserved communities, what are we talking about as specific jobs? Are we talking about factories where solar panels are made? First of all, let’s define green economy and then I want to know, specifically, what are one or two or three different jobs that kind of an economy would create?

Eric P: Yeah, absolutely. The green economy is a very broad big subject and encompasses everything from more efficient vehicles, as Audrey had mentioned, to energy generation (such as solar and wind) energy efficiency, and carbon capture smart technologies that help us consume energy in a smarter way and more efficiently. I think that is probably a good basis to start with a definition of the green economy.

Joan E: Audrey, give me some examples of how people would actually work in the green economy, what would they do?

Audrey H: Well, Eric is absolutely right. It is a broad term. When you mentioned factories where people are making solar panels, that would definitely qualify, but also what would qualify is green buildings, green materials, urban planning. I guess what I would try to convey is that when you think about a green economy, an opportunity, you have to think beyond cars being gas efficient. I’m not sure I’m answering your question.

Joan E: Let me give you guys one example. Recently, I had been thinking about an electric car for a while and then I decided to take the plunge. And some people are saying “Well, you know, that’s great. That’s the wave of the future.” And then I read articles that say “it’s really not that great, because there’s so many toxic minerals in the batteries, and then what do we do with the batteries?” and “are you really hurting the environment or saving the environment.” I don’t have the depth of knowledge that you guys have on this subject. I get confused very easily. And frankly, I can’t, at the end of the day sometimes, decide if I’m doing a good thing or not. Do you have any words of advice for me?

Audrey H: I just recently interviewed someone named Ellington Ellis and he addressed the very problem that you that you mentioned. Because you’re right, what used to pass for recycling for car batteries, or E-waste in general, was scandalous. Now there are more environmentally friendly ways of extracting the materials from batteries that can be recycled. They can be refurbished and they can be repaired so that the materials can be extracted in a way that’s less toxic. The batteries that have degraded to a certain point, but are still useful, can be used for other purposes. Whereas when you bought an electric car before, that battery might have just been disposed of in the landfill or shipped off to a developing nation. Now there’s more emphasis on responsibly recycling those batteries. So I worry less about it now than before.

Joan E: Audrey, one of the topics that I know you’ve looked into is this whole idea of environmental concerns and the impact on communities of color. Can you talk about that?

Audrey H: Yes, one of the things that I keep hearing over and over again, is the black to green pipeline. What that means is that communities of color, and lower income communities, have worn a lot of the burdens of the Industrial Revolution. The factories have been located in those neighborhoods. They’ve had to deal with more of the carbon emissions. They’ve had to deal with more of the waste materials. But at the same time, they haven’t had the same opportunities for jobs. So with what green economy advocates are saying about wanting development, we want it to be more equitable. We want to have people in our neighborhoods to have opportunities to train for and get these jobs that are in the green and clean and sustainable industries.

Joan E: I’m talking to Eric Pasi and Audrey Henderson. This is a segment that we’re doing on clean energy and the equity impact. We’re going to take a break when we come back there is actually a project right now going on in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. I’m going to tell you about that. Well, our experts are going to tell you about that when we come back after this.

Joan E: I want you to talk about the Bronzeville microgrid project. Okay, now, I’ve now said everything that I understand about what is going on. So Eric, you want to you want to enlighten me?

Eric P: I can kick things off by defining what a microgrid is. Then I think Audrey can jump in with some of the specifics about that project. A microgrid is a small network of electricity users within a geographic region that can essentially detach from the grid at any time and operate in isolation. That’s via technology, energy storage, and some sorts of generation like solar or wind. And so in the Bronzeville area, we’ve seen one of the country’s first larger or mid-scale microgrid project. Audrey knows a lot more about this subject than I do so I’ll kick it over to her.

Joan E: All right Audrey, you have the floor.

Audrey H: Okay, so the microgrid project in Bronzeville, is actually part of a larger initiative called the Community Of The Future. It’s a collaboration between a number of agencies, including Com Ed and the Bronzeville Community Development Partnership. What the Community Of The Future does is it uses the microgrid as one aspect of it. As Eric was saying, the grid is an energy source that can that can be integrated into the larger grid, or can operate independently. But with the Bronzeville microgrid, they’re also doing a number of other related initiatives. They initiated an electric vehicle shared ride service. They had an ‘ideathon’, which is kind of like, I was about to say a hackathon but you might not know what that is about either, it’s a contest where groups of young people get together and design projects within an energy efficiency or smart grid or sustainability theme. They sponsored that contest in 2018 and 2019 for high school students in the Bronzeville. area. They also had a pilot program where they introduced solar and battery energy. I think it was also related to the microgrid in one of the public housing developments, the Dearborn homes. That was also co-sponsored with the Department of Energy. So this was, as I said, part of a larger initiative in order to develop the microgrid, but also as a means for the community itself to enter to become more integrated into what we’re calling the green economy.

Joan E: Okay, Audrey, let’s say somebody who lives in Bronzeville is hearing this and is pretty excited about the idea. How would somebody get involved in the project and what, if anything, could they do to be a part of it?

Audrey H: The alderman has been very active and they have a whole Community of the Future Advisory Council that has been directly involved. It has had public meetings where community people have been able to give their own input. So the community itself has really been more active as far as the impact with the Bronzeville Community Development Partnership, and they really engage with community stakeholders, shaping what goes into the project, advising and commenting on what initiatives they want, and really shaping the program, not just to develop the microgrid, but also to develop job opportunities and urban development opportunities for people in the neighborhood.

Joan E: Earlier, you guys were talking about this idea that lots of times communities of color are hit particularly with pollution generating industries. I know when just in the Chicago area, we’ve had that recent example where General Iron, which is a metal shredding company, were pretty much pushed out of Lincoln Park. Neighbors there didn’t like the pollution and stuff they found floating around in the air. They made the announcement that they were going to go to the south side of Chicago and a lot of residents there were like “Oh, wait a minute. No, I don’t think so.” Maybe it would have been one thing if they would have come in and said “Oh, by the way, you know, we’re going to hire 500 local people from the community.” But they weren’t. They were just looking for a place where they could continue to do this metal shredding business, in a in a community where they hoped they wouldn’t get so much pushback. So there really is this very obvious, and even very recent example, of exactly what you guys were talking about. I want to shift gears a little bit. Joe Biden announced his infrastructure bill. It had some clean energy elements to it. Eric, what were the high points for you when you looked at Biden’s infrastructure bill? What were you happy to see as a part of that?

Eric P: As a clean energy advocate, there’s a lot to be excited about in this bill and we don’t necessarily always associate clean energy with infrastructure, but it absolutely is related. I’m about as excited as anyone for this bill. I’ll give you some examples as to what folks can expect to hear, and maybe the not so much covered aspects of the bill. First off, the legislation would establish an energy efficient and clean energy standard, which would be the first in the country’s history, to achieve 100% clean energy power by 2035. Because the bulk of that generation of clean energy happens in rural America and more conservative America, we need to find a way to bring that power into the urban core. So another aspect of the bill establishes a targeted tax credit to incentivize the build out of the next generation grid, which would essentially span solar power generation in the southwest and bring that all the way to the east coast. We’re talking about building these massive and much needed power distribution networks to bring clean energy from where it’s generated to where it’s needed. A couple of the other really interesting points in this bill include $50 billion in dedicated investment to improve infrastructure resilience. As we’re seeing in particular, the most essential services like food systems and urban infrastructure and transportation assets can be impacted as our climate becomes more volatile. We’re going to need to have this resiliency in place. Then, specific to clean energy, the bill extends the tax credits that are so vital to deployment of solar and wind. It also includes a new tax credit for specifically for energy storage, which is like battery storage.

Joan E: When you say these tax credits, are these tax credits for companies or for people like me?

Eric P: They’re for both. That’s the beauty, I think of the tax credit It applies both to private individuals as well as corporations. There’s even talks, because this is yet to be sorted out, for some of these credits to be refundable in the cases of municipalities or tribal nations, or other folks that can’t use tax credits to actually to actually gain some benefit from them.

Joan E: This infrastructure bill has been proposed, but do you guys have any feel for when or if it will really be voted on and become law? I mean, are we looking at something in the next few months? Next year or in the next couple of years? Audrey, do you have any feel for that?

Audrey H: I do not. I will speak on my own personal opinion, because I don’t have contacts in Washington. From what I hear and read and see, this is something that is going to happen sooner rather than later, especially in the house. I think I’ve heard or seen on TV that they were thinking about passing it through reconciliation, which would not through the filibuster. That would expedite the passing of it. So really, it’s a matter of getting all the democrats on board with a bill that everybody can vote on. Perhaps if we did have Vice President Harris cast that tie breaking vote. I think the process now is just rounding all the Democrats together, getting the aspects of the bill that everybody can agree on, and then putting that forward. Everything I’m seeing shows that it’s a priority for President Biden and I don’t see them having any difficulty passing it in the house. I think the any impediment will be in the Senate, and that would just be a matter of getting senators together.

Joan E: What’s one message, Audrey, that you want to leave our listeners with.

Audrey H: Eric was saying something earlier about infrastructure being a broader topic. I think if I were to say anything, I would say that infrastructure and clean energy are broad and inclusive, but they’re both important. Infrastructure is broader than just sticks and bricks. I was reading that the governor of South Dakota said that infrastructure has nothing to do with roads and bridges. Well, it has something to do with roads and bridges, but it also has to do with the internet and also has to do with clean water. I think if I were to say one thing it would be that it’s really necessary to reverse disinvestment and engage with people on the ground. The people on the ground have an idea of what they need, and usually have a pretty good idea of how to go about it. Moving forward, I would just say that clean energy and emphasis on infrastructure are important tools.

Joan E: Okay, Eric, you get the last minute and a half. What message do you want to leave us with today?

Eric P: Piggybacking on what Audrey mentioned, being focused on what’s happening on the ground, I love to think about this concept of ‘think globally and act locally’. Right now, Illinois residents have a chance to make a meaningful impact in their state. We’re so close to tipping the scales and making the clean energy future a reality.  I mentioned in our previous segment last month about a bill at the state legislature called Path To 100. It’s so important that your listeners know about it, if they’re engaged and interested in that bill. In particular, I would certainly invite folks to visit the Illinois Solar Energy Association website where they can provide some support for that bill. It just takes literally 30 seconds. That is found at Illinois solar.org. And, you know, as always, I appreciate you giving us some time here today, Joan, and I wish your listeners well and hope you have a great rest of the month!

Joan E: Thank you so very much Eric Pasi, who is the Chief Development Officer of Impact Power Solutions, and Audrey Henderson, an independent writer and researcher in the Chicago area who specializes in sustainability. Thank you both so much. I really appreciate the fact that you can talk about such complex issues in a way that even I can understand them. Thank you both Eric and Audrey.

Audrey H: Thank you for having me.

Impact Power Solutions Turns 30!

 

This Solar Company is Turning 30!

2021 marks a major milestone for IPS, 30 years in business! Ralph Jacobson founded IPS in 1991 with the simple goal of helping clients save money and the environment.  Since then, with the help of our staff, clients, partners, friends and family, we’ve grown into a nationally ranked solar company.  

As we’ve grown as a company, so has the impact we’ve had on our clients, the communities we serve, and the climate. We remain dedicated to maximizing that impact on and off the balance sheet. With that in mind, we want our 30th anniversary to be impact-focused. To start, we’ll be digging through the archives to share some of the moments and people that have defined IPS. 

With a watchful eye on vaccinations and health protocols we hope to celebrate in person this summer! Pending state guidelines we’re planning to gather at Utepils Brewing Co. on their creek-side patio, Wednesday, June 23rd from 3 to 6 PM for our 30-Year Solarbration. There will be tasty Utepils beer, good eats and, fingers-crossed, beautiful weather. Proceeds from sales that day are intended to support the recent work with the SolStar program in North Minneapolis, creating clean energy access for local residents of color.

We’d love to see you all there! 

Once again, we’d like to extend a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all the team members, clients and partners who have helped make our first 30 years as a solar company a success. We can’t wait for the next 30!


Event RSVP Link: https://30yearsofsolar.eventbrite.com

 

Clean Energy and Solar’s Future In Illinois: Clean Energy Connection EP. 1

(Interview starts at 1:08:00)

Proponents of Clean Energy: About the Guests 

Leslie McMcain, Illinois Solar Energy Industries Association

Lesley McCain, Executive Director, ISEA

Prior to accepting the position as Executive Director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association, McCain served on the ISEA board from September 2009 until April 2012. As a board member she was Chair of Marketing Committee. Lesleypreviously worked for Community Energy Inc.(CEI) as the Midwest Director of Business Development. She started with CEI in 2005 as the Residential Program Manager for the award winning City of Naperville Renewable Energy Program, and in 2006 added corporate and industrial sales to her responsibilities. McCain also serves on the board of the Illinois Environmental Council. She is grateful to have the opportunity to use her personal energy to help with the transition to the clean energy economy.

 

Eric Pasi, Impact Power Solutions

Eric Pasi, Chief Development Officer, IPS 

As Chief Development Officer for Impact Power Solutions, Pasi has helped organizations analyze and adopt clean energy strategies nationwide.  He is extremely passionate about renewable power, entrepreneurship and the climate crisis. In 2020, he released his first book called “CleanWave: A Guide to Success in the Green Recovery” where he outlines the past, present, and future of clean tech, and its role in a post-COVID19 and post-George Floyd recovery.  

 

Interview Transcript

Joan E: This segment of Joan Esposito live local and progressive is sponsored by Impact Power Solutions. A company that knows clean energy in Illinois and throughout the Midwest. Eric Pasi is the chief development officer. And he joins us now. And Eric, is Lesley with us as well?

Okay, and Lesley McCain from ISEA is here. Good to know that you guys are both here. Welcome to WCPT and thank you for being a part of our station and our broadcast.

Eric P: Joan, good afternoon, I’m so excited!

Joan E: One of the things that I really wanted to talk to you about is Joe Biden’s plan for clean energy and to get more wind power and more solar power. And explain to our listeners exactly what your company does, what Impact Power Solutions does.

Eric P: Yeah, absolutely. And thanks again for having us. Impact Power Solutions, we’re a solar development company based in the Midwest, and we specialize in commercial and community scale solar solutions. You’re correct, right now is a very interesting and exciting time related to clean energy. And we’re very excited to talk with your listenership about everything that’s happening both at a federal and a state level related to renewable energy. And actually, today, we have Lesley McCain, who is the Executive Director for the Illinois Solar Energy Association that’s also joining us.

Joan E: My knowledge of this subject as listeners who are regular listeners to this show know, when I’ve talked about things like solar and how all the energy grid works, the depth of my ignorance is staggering. Eric and Lesley, so this is going to be informative for me as well as the audience. So I was just trying to look through the press release for the COVID relief bill because I know they’ve been trying to expand it to other areas. Clearly, Joe Biden is going to tackle clean energy separately. What have you gleaned from the things Joe Biden has said about what we can expect, as far as support for clean energy from Washington.

Eric P: Yeah, absolutely. So on a federal level, we know that this is part of the Biden and Harris administration’s four pillars, addressing climate along with equity, economic recovery, and the COVID situation as well. And so we didn’t get much out of the most recent relief package, but we are looking toward infrastructure and climate kind of being the next piece of the puzzle here that the administration wants to address.

Joan E: What do you think the timetable is going to be for this?

Eric P: It’s a great question. We have, obviously, our own lobby group here and I can let Lesley hop in here if she’s got any insight that she’s hearing from the national level.

Lesley M: Great. Thanks, Eric. Thanks so much again, Joan, for giving us this opportunity. You admitting your sometimes confusion on what happens with energy is, you know, it’s a pretty broad thing out there in the general public. So this is great to have the opportunity to build it to help people understand what is happening broadly with energy development and clean energy development, specifically to Illinois. So we’re focused a lot on state policy, which we’d like to touch base on today. But honestly, there’s a lot of excitement. What is happening at the federal level? It really has been the states leading the charge on clean energy development for at least the last couple of decades, perhaps. You know, as far back as clean energy has been done, there hasn’t been a whole lot of support from the federal government. So to see climate become a cabinet position, and understand as Eric said that both climate and infrastructure are very high on the Biden administration’s list of priorities, which gives us all a lot of hope. Because we do know that clean energy is the significant solution for climate change concerns. I have heard that now that we’ve passed this significant stimulus package, that the administration feels that they have momentum, and will pick up another significant lift very, very soon. So I’m hoping that we’ll see that activity related to clean energy development in one of those two packages this spring.

Joan E: Aside from what we can expect from the national level, Lesley, since your focus is the state of Illinois, what is what’s going on here? Are there any bills that we should keep an eye on down in Springfield?

Lesley M: Yes, there are. Thank you for asking. So just a little bit of a little bit of background, at the end of 2016, Illinois passed a significant piece of legislation to help develop wind and solar here in the state called the Future Energy Jobs Act and that gave us a goal of reaching 25% clean energy for the state by the year 2025. That piece of legislation, which we thought was so significant at the time, just did not give us enough of a runway for all of the pent up demand here in the state. So unfortunately, we have run out of money for that budget for additional clean energy development, here in Illinois. And so yes, we are hoping that maybe your listeners will help put their shoulder to the wheel and send letters to their legislators to help pass that piece of legislation that we’re currently working on that will fix this budget called The Path To 100, as governor Pritzker has committed to 100% clean energy here in Illinois. So we’re very excited about that. But we do need a path to get to that goal and we don’t have that currently. So if folks want to visit the Illinois Solar Energy Association website, which is just Illinoissolar.org. At the top of the page, you’ll see a link to find the path to 100 letter that would go to your local legislators and just encourage them to continue to pay attention to clean energy development here in the state. We do have broad support with the General Assembly in Springfield, as well as at the governor’s office. So I’m very hopeful that we will see a repair to this budget this spring, because the waiting lists from homeowners, small businesses, community solar developers and the like, are growing. They’re very long waiting lists of people waiting to get solar developed, but we just need the incentive to be able to flow here in the state. Once again, I want to mention that we have developed quite a bit of clean energy in the last couple of years since the passage of that Future Energy Jobs Act. Illinois has added 309 megawatts of small scale solar, actually, that happened last year. And that’s the third highest number of additions across the country, according to the Energy Information Administration, and Illinois currently enjoys 515 megawatts of clean energy. That covers the energy needs for over 100,000 homes. So you can see that people are very excited about being powered by solar here.

Joan E: Lesley and Eric, we’re going to take a quick break. And when we come back, Eric, there’s a couple of things I want to talk to you about and that’s solar panels and things like that for home use and what the economics of that situation is. And also you may have heard that the governor of Texas blamed the whole grid crash on windmills, those darn windmills, they got all icy and the whole state went to heck in a handbasket. So I’m gonna ask you to weigh in on that. We’re talking to Eric Pasi and Lesley McCain about clean energy we’re going to continue this discussion after a break.

Joan E: Right before we went to break, I reminded Eric, that Governor Abbott of Texas, I believe it was the governor, but certainly, some lawmaker in Texas blamed the recent grid crash there on the fact that those darn windmills froze up. And there you go. And isn’t clean energy a bad thing? And I don’t know if anybody pointed out to him that there are lots of really cold countries in the world that use those same windmills. And you know, what, they use them year round, and they never have any problems. What would you say to the people in Texas, Eric?

Eric P: Yeah, isn’t that strange? I mean, we’ve seen windmills work across the Midwest with no issue. And really, it comes down to a concept or methodology of how you run the electric grid in your local area. We’ve had several weeks to digest this. Texas is, as everybody knows, big on self-reliance and kind of a go it alone strategy. And that just doesn’t work that well when it comes to the electric grid, which spans nationwide. Texas is governed by a local grid called the ERCOT. For years they’ve really tried to withstand any input from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to help with this issue, which is what happens when local grids have had problems, and need to port in electricity from elsewhere. You know, when we leave decisions to the free market with little to no oversight, the free market will take the least costly approach. This is what happened exactly as it pertains to weatherization. What happened in the Texas grid is really a story that has gone back for decades. This wasn’t the first disaster in Texas related to cold weather. 1989, 2011 most recently, we had similar crises. And at the end of that most recent one in 2011, an exhaustive study was released, and it urged regulators to require upgrades to weatherize the grid and specifically natural gas facilities, which had pipes freeze & burst in this most recent disaster, which caused outages across the state. We saw some homeowners receive monthly electricity bills of over $10,000, the cost of electricity spiked to 3,000%. And even our own Chicago-based Exelon is expecting a half billion dollar hit in the first quarter because of this issue. And really, what we need to think about is, how do we plan for the worst, knowing that our climate is changing? And that’s going to be the number one point on many people’s letter to the governor asking for, for some reform here after this disaster.

Joan E: I thought it was interesting, Eric. I read that there was one area around El Paso, where the grid did not go down and the utility company there, even though as you just pointed out, much of the state of Texas resisted any kind of federal regulation. They left it up to the utility companies, even though they had a devastating snowstorm 10 years ago that did much the same damage. They left it up to the utility companies. And one power company in El Paso, Texas, decided to go ahead and spend the money and winterize their equipment, I think their equipment was good to 10 below zero. And you know what, Eric? They didn’t lose power. And that was a story that I thought needed to get a lot more attention. Everybody was like, oh, everybody in Texas is suffering. Well, everybody except this one area that decided that even without the state breathing down their neck and even without federal necessity that they would do the responsible thing. The other thing I wanted to talk to you about Eric, is from time to time since I’ve started doing this show, I talked to people about solar. You know, I know that solar farms exist and they can be great even in the Midwest with our weird weather for generating power. But what about solar for your home? Does that make sense? Or does it only make sense if you’re going to live in your house, you know, five or 10 or 15 years to amortize the costs?

Eric P: Great question. And, Joan, I want to just touch on what you’d mentioned about El Paso in terms of the weird geographic issues that plagued the Texas grid. Actually, El Paso is part of a different separate grid, mid intercontinental system operator MISO, so they actually avoided the issues from ERCOT. So back to your question about solar, for residences. I’ve been with Impact Power Solutions since 2007, right out of college. I started as a residential installation expert and then moved into sales and other areas of the company since that time. it’s really moved from just people with means and ideals to really mainstream at this point. For most residences that are looking to install solar, you’re going to see somewhere between an eight to a 10-year return on investment. Not just that, it adds to the equity of your home. So when you mentioned, if you’re going to stay in your home for five to 10 years, well, actually if you’re going to incorporate the equity value of the system upon resale, that payback is even less than two years, in most cases. It’s a really fantastic investment for homeowners. You know, some of the challenges that we’ve seen, though, is that there’s kind of a Goldilocks situation. You’re looking for a newer roof that you want to install the system on, you’re looking for the roof to be unshaded and oriented somewhat close to South. In cases where maybe you’re renting your home, maybe you’re in an apartment or a condo, and you don’t have access to actually put solar on your roof, or you don’t want to put it on your roof. Really what Illinois and a lot of other states have done is allow folks to participate in programs, like community solar. That’s what has been a major driver in the state. The concept behind that is homeowners and residents and businesses and schools can participate in solar by subscribing to a solar field that’s located off site, not on their home, and not necessarily next to their business. What happens is that the utility will monitor the production and then provide bill credits on your bill. Then you’re usually working with a solar provider then to pay back a portion of those savings. It’s a really neat and, and very lucrative solution for the residents that are expecting to save money from day one without having to put any capital up to participate. So that’s a kind of new wrinkle for folks that can’t put it on their home or don’t want to. You’ve got community solar as an option as well.

Joan E: Okay, Eric, we started this discussion with my reminder of my utter and complete ignorance on this topic. So what you just talked about when you said “homes or schools could subscribe”. What does that mean? Does that mean I as a homeowner find a solar farm somewhere, and I just sign up like a book club? I pay them a monthly fee? I’m a little confused here.

Eric P: Yeah, it’s almost as simple as signing up for a book club. I would encourage folks to go to The Illinois Solar Energy Association website. Lesley’s organization has a list of providers for community solar, and also more information about how it works. So if folks did not catch that at the outset, Illinois, solar.org is the website you can check out how community solar works, see if it’s a good option for you. And it’s available statewide.

Joan E: Lesley, I used to get a newsletter that was all about clean energy and solar energy. They had all these articles of futuristic stuff or stuff that was being tested in labs right now. And there were articles about maybe like blinds in your house, maybe the blinds could have little solar coatings and the blinds that you have on your windows could generate some energy. There was even an article that I read, and I don’t understand how this could possibly work, but they were talking about paint, how you can paint your wall and somehow the paint itself would be constructed in a way to produce energy. Are any of these ideas close to fruition? I would buy solar blinds. That’s a good thing.

Lesley M: I’ve seen some of those articles myself in the past. I don’t know if they have been turned into reality. I don’t know if Eric does. I do know there’s an organization here in the Midwest, they’re out of Iowa (don’t quote me on that) called Solar Roadways. They are working on embedding solar into driveways, and streets and sidewalks. There is all that type of innovation happening. I don’t know if there’s any solar blinds available. I’ve not heard that, no. But you know, we have seen walls made of solar, we’ve seen shingles, folks are paying attention to Tesla. So, this building integrated concept of integrating solar into everyday material, it’s definitely coming.

Joan E: That’s so very cool. What else do you guys want our listeners to know? Eric, you have the floor. Tell our listeners what they need to know about Impact Power Solutions. Then we’ll give the last word to Lesley.

Eric P: Absolutely. So again, thanks everybody. One thing that I think your listeners might be interested in, because solar is a hot topic, both for job creation and for folks that might be either mid-career or coming out of school. I recently wrote a book, it’s called Clean Wave: A Guide to Success in the Green Recovery and it’s really focused on the past, present and future of clean technology, with actionable advice for career seekers. The website is www.cleanwavebook.com if folks want to go and see how this transition could benefit them from a career standpoint. We need talent, and we’re looking for talent so I would encourage folks to go check that out. In fact, Impact Power Solutions is hiring across the country. I encourage folks to go check us out at www.ips-solar.com where we mainly focus on commercial scale and community scale solar projects. And again, Joan, really appreciate you having us on this week. And I look forward to connecting next month, just a short several weeks away.

Joan E: Lesley, what message do you want to leave our listeners with today?

Lesley M: Well, first of all, I want to thank you, Joan, for your time today. And certainly to Eric, for including the Illinois Solar Energy Association. Impact Power Solutions is a very important member of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. We appreciate all of the work that they do to broaden people’s knowledge about the opportunities for them to be powered by clean energy. I would just encourage your listeners to visit that website, www.Illinoissolar.org. There are a lot of educational resources that are very accessible to the public on there. We have a whole portfolio of recordings up on our YouTube channel that you can access from homeowners who are just telling their story of what it was like to get solar, what it is like to live with clean energy. It’s very user friendly to be able to listen to a communication like that from somebody just like you to, somebody like one of your neighbors just telling you what it’s like to be powered by clean energy. While folks are there, we hope that they will also take the opportunity to click on that path to 100 act link at the top of the homepage and sign the letter to their legislator. It’s already crafted, you just have to sign it, you can modify it if you’d like to. It will let our decision makers know that we all want clean energy.

Joan E: Thank you both for being here!

 

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.]