Josh Hilsdon: Pioneer Valley Photovoltaics co-op

  • Josh Hilsdon Contributed photo

For the Recorder
Published: 3/16/2021 11:25:36 AM

In the first three articles in this weekly series, I described rehabbing and building two fossil-fuel- free houses, both entirely electric, that use sunlight to generate electricity from roof top solar collectors. Generating energy close-to-home is a way to lower the rising tide of greenhouse gasses that are destabilizing the climate.

While Greenfield has negotiated 100% renewable electricity, most New England communities are served by public utilities, which primarily burn fossil fuels (60% from natural or fracked gas). Nuclear plants — which are not quite gone — are so expensive to build and dangerous to sustain that utilities are unlikely to build more.

Energy generation is changing rapidly to renewable energy.

Mindful of the threats of rising tides, storms and increasing heat due to climate change, the Massachusetts state legislature recently voted to build 5,000 megawatts of off-shore wind turbines. The utilities, seeing significant financial benefits, are also improving the grid, and covering fields with solar panels so rapidly that we now find communities defending agricultural uses.

Unlike fossil fuels, renewable sources of energy do not require costly mining, nor do they create toxins from burning (one exception is wood). So, the purchase and installation of the equipment, is a win-win: workers get good jobs and we benefit environmentally. Scientists have estimated society needs to be well on its way to a sustainable future within 10 years in order to avoid the worst of an environmental collapse. Beyond that, scientists say the whole globe should be net-zero by 2050.

How?

“Electrify everything,” according to Josh Hilsdon, of Pioneer Valley PhotoVoltaics (known as PVSquared), a worker-owned cooperative in Greenfield. PVSquared designs and installs photovoltaic collectors that use sunlight to generate electricity.

PVSquared is on the cutting-edge. I remembered when they were being incubated by the Franklin County Community Development Corporation, which has helped hundreds of new businesses get started. PVSquared started with four worker-owners in 2002. The business is now comprised of 45 working people, has completed more than 1,600 solar installations in our region. More info can be found at pvsquared.coop

Hilsdon is a member of the design and sales team.

Pam Kelly: “Josh, how long have you been working at PV Squared? What is it like working for a worker-owned cooperative?”

Josh Hilsdon: “I started in 2013 after graduating from college — majoring in renewable energy — then working for a company in Vermont. I love seeing the number of solar roofs grow over time. (It’s) a reminder of the good work we’re doing for the planet and for our community. We’ve more than doubled since 2013, from 20 to 45 people. Of those, 27 are worker-owners. Others are in the process. To become an owner takes 1-3 years as a trainee (along with) an equity investment.”

PK: “An equity investment?”

JH: “Yes. Each worker-owner makes a financial investment in the company and participates in major decision-making. Our board is all worker-owners. We divide into teams for the daily work. Financially, we get a typical salary, health care and paid time off. Worker-owners get a profit-share when we have a good year. Like most business owners, we take on the risk of debt and could lose if we have a bad year.”

PK: “It looks like we will need thousands of installations. The future looks very sunny for the solar installation business.”

JH: “Yes. On the average, our 45 workers are installing 185 solar projects a year, completing over three projects a week, honoring our commitment to bring about a transition to renewable energy, empowering our workers and using our cooperative as a force for good.”

PK: “So what’s it like to work for the cooperative?”

JH: “We have an elected board of owners developing policy; managers run the day-to-day operations; seven well-coordinated teams, without a lot of hierarchy within teams. On the design and sales team, I do outreach and marketing. There is a strong sense of ownership and shared responsibility for the success of our business. We deliver the best possible projects to our clients because we know our reputation is on the line. The majority of every installation team is made up of owners. We all really care about quality workmanship and the long-term performance of our systems.”

PK: “This sounds like quite a contrast to the typical corporate ownership approach. If worker-ownership were widely adopted, I think it would tend to create networks of people striving to improve their skills in communication, and efficient decision-making and good long-term quality work. What do you look for in a new employee?”

JH: “We’re looking for highly skilled workers, whether in written and verbal communication skills, or the trades. But, because anyone hired could become a worker-owner, we put a lot of emphasis on core traits like honesty and integrity.”

According to Hilsdon, one “major bottleneck for years has been the licensing restrictions on electricians. It takes four years of field work, two nights a week of night school and a 4-hour exam to become a licensed electrician. To address climate change, we need to ‘electrify everything.’ Now PVSquared puts a lot into our own internal workforce development by supporting new installers becoming licensed electricians.”

Pam Kelly, has lived in Franklin County close to 20 years, and was former director of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s national economic justice network. Contact Kelly at PamelaSKelly@comcast.net.


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.


Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
 

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy