In 6th grade I learned that the sun provided enough energy in 1 hour to power the world for a year. That fact stuck with me. As a little kid, I remember thinking “why don’t we power everything with the sun?” As an adult, my interest in the solar energy field began when I purchased some land in a remote corner of Utah and needed to make electricity away from power lines. The first time I powered a light from the sun,with no connection to the grid, it seemed like magic; I was fascinated and instantly hooked.
Living in Rhode Island, I sought out and found the most knowledgeable person in the local solar industry and he became my mentor. With his advice, I took classes from Solar Energy International, the most reputable solar school in the country. With a 30-year career in construction and carpentry, I decided that I wanted to make the switch to Renewable Energy as a new career. After completing PV 101-Solar Electric Design And Installation (Grid Direct), PV 202- Advanced PV System Design And the NEC (Grid Direct) and PV 203- PV System Fundamentals (Battery-Based) from Solar Energy International, I worked for a few different local installers. The problem for me was they did not have the proper PV education and were doing poor work. I had part-time work with my mentor, but he lived remotely on an island and it was not a practical arrangement.
With a strong desire to do things right, I relied on my education from SEI and started my own business, Newport Solar. At the time, there wasn’t much for regulation on solar in RI, but I knew that would change. With continued advice and guidance, I pursued national certification to distinguish myself in the field, attaining NABCEP Solar Installation Professional Certification in 2011. At the time I started Newport Solar, there wasn’t much for incentives in RI, but there was a 25% state tax credit. When I installed my first system, the homeowner received the tax credit and the future looked bright. When I installed my second system, the tax credit had disappeared, and the future suddenly didn’t seem so bright anymore. That early lesson taught me that not only would I need to be an expert on solar, but I would also have to learn policy. One of my state representatives pointed out that doing something good for the environment could also do something good for the economy and she worked to get the tax credit reinstated, but it was an uphill battle. I testified for that reinstatement, but we lost that battle and work in the solar field became hard to find. I continued working as a carpenter, installing a PV system every once in awhile.
When our state joined forces with neighboring states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the legislators took another look at solar incentives. A few of our neighboring states had solar incentives in place and their industries were thriving. Having one of the worst economies in the nation, Rhode Island finally took a serious look at solar again and created a solar grant program. With the grant in place, along with the federal tax credit, my solar work started picking up again.
Fast-forward five years, and a lot of hard work, I now employ eleven people and our business is thriving. I enroll all of my installers, including licensed electricians, with Solar Energy International for the absolute best PV education in this ever-changing field of renewable energy.
Recently, we were honored to host our Governor to celebrate Newport Solar as a successful local solar business that has thrived on the good policies our state has created. Once our legislators learned how improving the environment and improving the economy go hand-in-hand, they continued to support good, fair solar policies and now my business, and the local renewable energy industry, are both thriving. The discussions with the local utility continue on how to create the “grid of the future”, but one thing is certain, solar will be a big part of it and the future looks bright!