Finding work in the green energy sector

  • John Ward, Claire Chang, Stephanie Williams and Sammy (the dog) with Sun-Seeking Tracker Installation. Contributed photo—

For the Recorder
Published: 3/9/2021 8:44:09 AM

Stephanie Williams, 35, didn’t always intend on a career in the green energy sector.

Around the time she was hired by Greenfield Solar (newly rebranded, formerly The Solar Store), “I was working in a jewelry store. Then we bought a house. I wanted to know how to solarize it,” she recounted.

Like many others looking for similar information, Williams dropped by Greenfield Solar — a connection that led to her job.

It is easy to find in downtown Greenfield on Fiske Avenue, opposite Green Fields Market. Claire Chang, a former organic farmer and John Ward, a former service manager at Greenfield Imported Cars, are proprietors. They are patient, with a talent for answering complex questions with understandable answers. For them, this is not just their 13th year of business, they have been very involved in energy policy advocacy for decades, opposing nuclear reactors and as renewable energy activists.

As green energy projects become more prevalent, job opportunities will expand. In a 2019 report, for exampe, The International Energy Agency projected the green energy sector would double globally by 2024.

The term ‘renewable’ refers to energy that renews, such as the sun’s rays, the rotation of the earth or powerful flows of water. Fossil fuel, such as coal, oil, propane or natural gas is not renewable. Once it’s mined and burned, it’s gone. Burned fossil fuels also leave behind emissions, burdening the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, methane. This pollutes the air we breathe, creating a “greenhouse effect.”

What is the “greenhouse effect?” It’s when pollution works like plastic that’s covering a greenhouse. As the sun shines, whatever is underneath that covering heats up. The greenhouse effect is causing global warming. While seemingly slight, the warming of earth and oceans have unintended consequences like unpredictable weather — huge storms, rising seas, melting polar ice caps (which release more methane as the frozen tundra melts), intense heat and more frequent fires in some regions.

Greenfield Solar, like many renewable energy enterprises, is more than a business. It helps people, day after day, reduce global warming by installing photovoltaic systems to generate electricity from sunshine. This, in turn, lowers or eliminates the amount of fossil fuel used to electrify and heat homes, run efficient appliances and power electric cars. It’s an enormous task to switch to 100 percent renewable energy by the deadlines scientists have given us — it’s the work of our lifetime. There are many ways we can find to contribute to that work. At Greenfield Solar, Williams found one of them.

John Ward recalled the time in 2016 when Williams applied for a job: “We had just won a Solarize Mass contract. Organized by the state of Massachusetts, solar installers were asked to offer escalating incentives in towns, benefiting residents (prospective customers) who all signed up during a limited-offer period.”

Notably, the Solar Store installed 24 solar panels on my own roof in 2013. Around that time, I was actively volunteering with Greening Greenfield. Not long after that, Greenfield started a similar town-wide program.

The state program Ward referenced was cleverly designed to support the rapid growth of local solar installation businesses by providing each town with education and advertising. While new customers benefited (and continue to benefit) from installations that saved money, the state is meeting its goals: lowering greenhouse-gas emissions.

At the time, Williams continued, “I was an accounting student at Greenfield Community College, also taking renewable energy classes, seeking a career change. So I applied. Also, I was interested in solarizing my own home.”

It was a match.

“Most critically,” said Chang, “Stephanie has great people-communication skills, very organized and methodical, skills we were seeking to help many new customers. She quickly learned to prepare grid-interconnection applications and incentive applications for customer’s financial benefits.”

She also troubleshoots issues — “All critical for customers’ warranties,” Ward added, “We partner with a master electrician-contractor, Torrico Electric. In 2017, for Solarize Mass, we had installed over 70 residential systems in three towns: Shelburne Falls, Colrain and Conway. Meanwhile, Stephanie became essential, grasping complex utility regulations and processes, while helping us follow-up warrantied customers.”

The Green and Clean column is currently taking a month-long look at green jobs. These jobs are needed to build the transition to a safe, clean, green economy by 2050. This is just the right time to look into job training. Funding is flowing for unemployment and re-training due to the pandemic. What are those jobs? Where is training offered? Next week, we will take a look at Pioneer Valley Photovoltaics in Greenfield, a worker-owned co-operative.

Pam Kelly is a 20-year resident of Greenfield, retired Director of the national Unitarian Universalist economic justice network. Contact: pamelaskelly@comcast.net.


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