Solar technical training organization Solar Energy International (SEI) has welcomed two Colorado regions in need of assistance with kickstarting solar markets into the Solar Forward Program in 2019. The City of Montrose and the entirety of Summit County, powered by strategic partnerships throughout the community by the High Country Conservation Center, will both implement ‘Solarize’ programs in 2019 through technical consulting from Solar Forward.
The Solar Forward program gives nonprofits or community groups located in rural Colorado the opportunity to partner with SEI to implement initiatives aimed at kickstarting solar markets in a region. Nonprofits can apply to be accepted into the program, and upon entry they receive a toolkit for desired solar growth initiatives chosen from a menu of offerings from SEI, and a year of advising from an SEI technical adviser.
Some of these offerings include a toolkit to launch a ‘Solarize’ program, which is a community-driven group purchase program including partnered local installers and an incentivized timeline to go solar, and SEI’s ‘Solar in Schools’ program which brings SEI’s industry-leading solar curriculum to high schools as a trade training program.
“We are thrilled to triple capacity this year after a successful pilot program in 2018,” said Solar Forward program manager Mary Marshall.
In 2018 the program launched with the announcement of one community, Gunnison County, through a partnership with Coldharbour Institute and the Masters of Environmental Management program at Western Colorado University. The Solarize Team is still in the middle of its outreach campaign but have seen interest from at least 60 community members in going solar, with one more month of outreach to go before program registration closes. The success of last year’s pilot year stemmed into taking on at least two communities at the beginning of 2019, with applications still rolling in to take on at least one more toward the end of the year.
“What we’re seeing is, so many communities are making pledges to go 100% renewable through various campaigns, which is amazing,” Marshall explained. “However not a lot of communities have the tools or the roadmap for ‘phase two’ or implementing those goals with a strategic path forward. We’re seeking to fill that need with the Solar Forward program, especially in rural communities, who can benefit the most from the economic diversification and energy resilience that a solar market brings.”
Marshall also emphasized that the program seeks to empower rural community groups to be the primary driver for these programs in their own communities, with SEI providing assistance and support when needed. She explained, “Our model aims to empower local community groups to be the change they want to see in their city, town or county. This program model creates local jobs and helps to stimulate local economic development. We’re not going into a region presenting solutions, we’re offering specific technical tools to empower communities to meet their goals.”
SEI’s experience with solar initiatives in rural communities stems back to its three years of implementing “Economic Revitalization Through Solar” programs in Delta County, Colorado, with the help of AmeriCorps VISTAs. Through their efforts, Delta County saw over 400 new kilowatts of installed solar, and a partnership with the local rural electric cooperative, Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA), that resulted in DMEA pledging $150,000 of unused capital credits to install five 10-kW solar systems on area high schools.
The Solar Forward program was born out of a prevalent problem in Western Colorado, and nationwide: As communities transition from coal-dependent economies, there is a need now more than ever to diversify local economies and build sustainable solutions for the future. Solar creates new local jobs, and locally-produced energy helps keep money in the communities that need it the most.
Solar Forward is accepting applications on a rolling basis. For more information, contact the Solar Forward program manager Mary Marshall at email@example.com or call 970-527-7657 extension 116.
News item from SEI