Solar By Soldiers program puts vets to work installing clean energy projects

452
Eric Zimmer, Founder and CEO of Tipping Point Renewable Energy

Tipping Point Renewable Energy yesterday officially launched its Solar By Soldiers program −which trains and employs veterans in clean energy installation− at Flannagan’s of Dublin.

The pub is the site of the first solar array completed by Solar By Soldiers participants; the cells are estimated to save $238,260 on utility costs over 25 years.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown was on hand for the program’s launch as he believes our nation’s commitment to our service members shouldn’t end when they return home.

“The skills our veterans gain in the military −from leadership experience to technical and scientific skills– are skills they can utilize to help make Ohio the Silicon Valley of clean energy manufacturing,” he says.

To learn why Tipping Point −a three-year-old company based in Dublin− started Solar By Soldiers,  how it goes about recruiting veterans, and what it will do to improve their training, read our interview with its founder and CEO, Eric Zimmer.

The Metropreneur: First, what kinds of services does Tipping Point provide?

Eric Zimmer: Tipping Point is a developer of solar energy projects. We provide turnkey solar energy solutions to customers in the commercial, nonprofit, and government sectors. We bring together the technical, engineering, financial, and policy resources necessary to fully realize the economic and environmental benefits of solar energy. In addition, we provide renewable energy consulting services to help clients evaluate the potential for renewable energy projects at their facilities.

[M]: Tipping Point believes the challenges of energy security, national security, and climate change are inextricably linked. Please explain.

EZ: Our dependence on foreign oil contributes to our lack of energy security. This causes us to engage in policies we might otherwise avoid were we not so dependent on foreign oil. Burning that oil and other fossil fuels increases climate change, which the CIA and National Security Agency agree further destabilizes already volatile regions.

[M]: What inspired Tipping Point to launch Solar By Soldiers?

EZ: Tipping Point Chief Technical Officer Darin Hadinger has long had a passion for ensuring that those who serve our country are treated well by society. He is inspired by his father, a Vietnam veteran. Darin has been involved in the Wounded Warrior project and other efforts to help veterans. Tipping Point has been focused on improving the communities we work in and this seemed to be a perfect tie in.

[M]: What kinds of work do vets participating in the program do?

EZ: So far, the soldiers have been involved in constructing the solar arrays and in building the custom structures that hold the arrays. The electricians involved in the [Flannagan’s] project are also veterans. As the program progresses, we see veterans playing roles from installation to engineering.

[M]: How do you find soldiers for the program?

EZ: We work with Daniel Hutchinson of the Ohio Combat Veterans group, Lieutenant Stone from the Ohio Department of Development, and Rick Isbell from the City of Columbus Office of Veterans Affairs. With an unemployment rate of higher than 25 percent for returning soldiers, the veterans looking for work are not hard to find.

[M]: Do the soldiers go through a training process? 

EZ: Right now we are doing on the job training, but hope to formalize a training program in the future for the veterans.

[M]: Is there anything else you think we should know?

EZ: Solar works in Ohio. Along with the good story about veterans, the other good story is the savings that Flannagan’s is getting from this array. After they recoup their investment in a few short years, they will get an additional 25 to 30 [years] of free power from the array that protects them from future rate increases.

Solar is currently the fastest growing industry in the United States. In tough economic times, clean energy is a way to create jobs in both manufacturing and installation of these important technologies. Continued federal and state investment is key to this growth.

We want to make sure that as our veterans return home they are able to find good work in a growing field. The unemployment rate of returning veterans is over 25 percent. We have over $20 million of projects in Central Ohio that we are working to finance to help create more jobs for these very worthy heroes.

To learn more about Solar By Soldiers, visit TipEnergy.com.