Bay Nature magazineJanuary-March 2009

Climate Change

Solar RichmondBUILD

January 1, 2009

What do you get when you combine entrepreneurial spirit, construction and engineering expertise, and a commitment to the community and the planet? One answer is Solar RichmondBUILD, a job training, energy conservation, and community development program in Richmond that installs solar electric systems for low-income homeowners and trains community residents to do the work.

Solar RichmondBUILD’s three partners combine their missions and their expertise in a collaboration that is bigger than its parts. The partnership is the brainchild of Michele McGeoy, founder and executive director of Solar Richmond, a nonprofit started in 2006 to promote solar energy and energy efficiency in this East Bay city. Solar Richmond provides the training in solar technology, which complements carpentry and construction training from partner RichmondBUILD, a City of Richmond program. Nonprofit GRID Alternatives offers real-world experience for the trainees, who participate in its innovative program of installing low-cost solar electric systems for low-income homeowners.

Since its founding in August 2007, Solar RichmondBUILD has trained 120 unemployed or underemployed Richmond residents in solar system installation, providing them with the knowledge and hands-on experience necessary to qualify for entry-level jobs in the growing “green collar” construction industry. As part of their training, students help install solar electric systems on two low-income Richmond homes.

Program graduate Kareem Frazier exemplifies Michele McGeoy’s vision for the participants: “They all graduate on Friday and are up on roofs on Monday.” Kareem came to the program with few prospects and left with an entry-level job at a solar installation company. Within a year he was promoted to master installer and recently joined the board of Solar Richmond. In the Solar RichmondBUILD program, everyone benefits: Those like Kareem, whose job skills and employment prospects were once limited, receive training for high-wage jobs in the green construction industry; low-income residents of Richmond reduce their energy bills; and the planet receives a little less carbon dioxide.

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