Green Careers Dallas is helping DFW’s growing need for solar energy

Each month, my husband forwards our Green Mountain Energy electric bill to me, because he knows I get a thrill out of seeing the negative electricity bills. This week, even after all the rain this past month, our electric bill was -$98.86. Yep, negative. It never gets old!
We were excited to recently share this story with Meteorologist Erin Moran of CBS 11 News, thanks to a connection from Hanna Mitchell, Texas Program Director at Solar United Neighbors.

Like other environmentalists, we seek out solar for local, clean energy generation. In 2019, we invested in a solar array, a collection of multiple solar panels that generate electricity as a system, that was designed for 100 percent offset. That means that each year, we’ll have some months where our solar generation exceeds our usage, like on a cold sunny day, while the hotter months require more from our system than it can provide, but it zeroes out over 12 months. Our system was also designed to power our new-to-us 2015 Nissan LEAF that we purchased in July 2019. The car was about $11,000 and our payment is $197 per month. I don’t miss fueling up at the gas station one little bit.

As we have all become more aware of the very real effects of climate change, and the looming crises, this felt like something we could do for ourselves right now, and for generations to follow. Solar panels are guaranteed to generate energy for a minimum of 25 years with only a slight reduction in efficiency over that time. Plus, there is no other appliance we’ll buy for our home that will EVER pay for itself. Can you imagine if our HVAC systems actually paid for themselves over time?! Or refrigerator, dishwasher, etc.? In our case, our return on investment is 10 years or so. After that, we’ll be generating free electricity from our rooftop! And reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions drastically. It feels good.

The solar array we invested in was steep—about $27,000. As a single-income, middle class family for most of our 32-year marriage, we’ve had to stay focused on cashflow. We were grateful to be able to finance the purchase of our solar array through our home equity loan at 5 percent. In 2019, when we had our system installed, the federal income tax credit (ITC) for installing solar was still at 30 percent. For us, like many folks, 2020 was a very difficult year financially, and we received the tax credit as a refund (AKA very needed $$ for living expenses with a brand-new business that didn’t qualify for PPP or EIDL).

We timed our installation with the Green Careers Dallas July 2019 training. My husband, Mark McCollom of Skygate Solar, is our lead instructor now (we stole him from the IT world and brought him into solar). Mark teams up with GCD’s Treasurer Michael Fladmark to teach entry-level solar installation. We recruit trainees from the lowest income areas of Dallas.

As the solar pie grows in Texas, we want to provide a slice of that to those in greatest need of good paying work. Access to opportunity is key in South and southern Dallas. Three graduates of that class were chosen to work with a patient, big-hearted installer— our nephew, Jeff Shed—founder/owner of Sunshine Renewable Solutions. Though the install took three days instead of one day, he guided our graduates through the install, and they got some great on the job training. One of those three, Eddie, still works in the industry today. He went from making $9 an hour in a warehouse job to $20 an hour with EDDS Solar. I’ll introduce you to him and his story another day.

The input tax credit (ITC) is still at 26 percent. Since the sun shines down each day, this is a great time to install solar. We work with Preferred Partners (listed on our website) who give our graduates opportunities to join this growing industry at a living wage. As a consumer, you can tell any installation company that you want them to hire GCD graduates as well. The benefits of solar can be many: environment, economic and equity, a win-win-win!

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