Alumni Spotlight: Kristen O’Brien “Once you are in the family, you are always in the family.”

Back in August 2014, I started a year of service as an Americorps VISTA at Solar Energy International working on Community Revitalization through Solar in Delta County, CO (where SEI is located). SEI decided to apply to Americorps for my position due to the fact that over the last 2 years, nearly 500 local people have been laid off from 2 of the 3 coal mines that are within 10 miles of Paonia (where SEI’s main campus is). What I came to realize though is that before we can send any of these people through job re-training in solar, we have to boost the local solar market so that it can support more jobs in the industry. So for the past 8 months, I have been developing a program called “Solarize North Fork Valley” which looks to provide a market kickstart in solar installations through a community educational campaign and bulk purchasing program.

On May 1, we will be launching a 3 month energy efficiency and solar educational campaign in the North Fork Valley (Paonia, Hotchkiss & Crawford) running from May 1, 2015 through July 31, 2015. Simultaneously with this community educational campaign there will be an enrollment period where residents of our communities can sign up for a free remote solar site assessment and quote for a grid-tied solar electric (PV) system. These “hot leads” will then be passed onto the pre-selected Solarize PV installer. Based on the number of contracts the installer is able to sign with Solarize customers, the per watt installed cost will be set for everyone. The more contracts signed, the lower the cost is for everyone as the selected installer is able to save more and more money on customer acquisition costs. This tiered pricing structure will help bring down the cost of solar for everyone, and promote residents encouraging their neighbors to consider going solar too!

Providing this small price break for residents of our communities is incredibly important, not only because this county has been hit so hard economically with the mine closures, but also because the state of Colorado as well as our local electric co-op do not provide any additional incentives to switch to renewables. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be around to see any of the miners go through training, but hopefully by the end of my year of service I will be able to look around and see several more solar systems going up on homes and businesses in the valley. If nothing else, people in this valley will be more informed about energy efficiency and solar technology, and can make informed decisions about energy in their future.

The idea is based on a process started in Portland, OR known as “Solarize.”

Kristen O’Brien
Community Rebuilds Intern Graduate — Spring 2013
Solar Energy International
Solarize North Fork Valley, Coordinator
Americorps VISTA

One Response to “Alumni Spotlight: Kristen O’Brien “Once you are in the family, you are always in the family.””
  1. Lee Keiser says:

    Thanks for sharing this Kristen. I just finished my core application to AmeriCorps for this years position. Did you post any other information about your projects or the program?

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