Top 5 Reasons Why Your Neighbors are Going Solar

Last summer, solar installers Empowered Energy Systems of Hotchkiss were busy installing 23 new solar PV systems, contracted through Solarize North Fork Valley. Totally 120 kW, these projects joined the more than 300 other net-metered systems on DMEA’s grid. Add to this number the City of Delta Utility’s solar-powered homes and businesses and the countless off-grid systems throughout the county, and it’s clear that more than ever Delta County neighbors are going solar.


Part of this is explained by costs. The cost of solar has dropped 70% since 1998, according to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study from 2015. At the same time, more local banks are offering financing, recognizing that not only does solar PV increase home property value (it is also excluded from property tax evaluations), it also allows customers to save on their energy bills. That money can in turn help repay loans. Ask Alpine Bank, Delta County Federal Credit Union or Empowered Energy Systems about their loan options!

Financial sense is what allows you to sign your name on the dotted line. But what about the motivations that first spur a homeowner or business to ask if “going solar” right for them?

Well we asked.

At the conclusion of Solarize Round I, Solar Energy International sent a survey to all participants asking just that: Why did you choose to go solar?


Below are the top 5 reasons why more and more neighbors are going solar:

  1. Decrease Carbon Footprint:

In Delta County, we derive our livelihood from healthy soil and mountain water. We find solace and recreation in our canyons and mountains. We choose to live out in the Western Slope and take the role of stewards of the land to heart.

Electricity created with solar PV is emission free and carbon neutral. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory study concluded that solar PV could offset the pollution generated in its mining, manufacturing, transportation and installation (embodied energy) in less than 2 years, then it’s able to produce carbon-neutral energy for the next 30 plus years!

The average system in America is around 6kW which would produce roughly 10,000 kWh a year of clean, local energy! Plugging that number to the EPA’s Greenhouse Calculator, that system would be equivalent to taking 1.5 passenger vehicles off the road each year or the carbon sequestered by 6.7 acres of forest!

Going solar is one way you choose to support not only healthy economies, but ecosystems as well.


  1. Support Local Power Generation

As a DMEA customer, some 7 cents of every 10 cents/kWh you pay leaves this community to cover the wholesale power costs of DMEA’s power provider Tri-State.

When you install a solar PV system on your home or business, you are supporting local energy. Each electron produced locally means one less DMEA and its members have to import and buy. With over $40 million dollars a year leaving DMEA’s service area, this means more money that stays in our communities!

Solarize is starting the conversation of how local energy can benefit our community. With our hydro, biomass and solar potential, we have the ability to produce the energy we need locally, providing models for other rural communities to do the same.  Now with a FERC ruling that has paved the way for local energy generation, we can start doing just that!

Local energy means keeping electricity rates low, promoting energy independence, and creating JOBS!

  1. Energy Independence

It’s no secret we are a self-sufficient bunch in Delta County. We grow our own food and we even have the resources to make our own electricity! Well the coal mines have shuttered, we maintain that we are still an energy-producing valley, just one in transition.

Projects like DMEA’s South Canal micro-hydro project allow our community to become energy independent by developing the county’s energy resources. And with 300 days of sun, residents of Delta County have an opportunity to make their own energy by taking advantage of the sun.   

The decision to go solar and to be net-metered to the grid allows you to make your own energy while benefiting from remaining on the grid. As a net-metered customer, local utilities will credit you at retail rate for the energy you crank out! Start making your power with Western Slope sunshine today!

  1. Hedge Against Rising Electricity Costs

When was the last time your electricity rate went down? There are many reasons why installing solar makes financial sense: it increases your home value, there is a generous tax credit still available and you can produce free energy once your system reaches payback (can your investment in a granite counter or new living room couch do that?).

Another appealing reason to go solar related to its financial payback is to hedge against rising electricity costs. The federal agency, Energy Information Administration, estimates that 2017’s nationwide electricity costs will be 3% higher than 2016, a rate outpacing inflation.

Investing in solar can allow you to benefit from net-metering. And as those electricity rates go up (from Tri-State to DMEA, then from DMEA to you), your payback period shortens!

  1. Support Local Jobs

Whether your motivation is energy independence, good economic sense, or the environment, today more of your neighbors are going solar! And the people that are busy putting up those panels, pulling the permits and designing the system are also your neighbors.

Solarize Delta County is continuing our work with Empowered Energy Systems of Hotchkiss to increase the viability and visibility of renewable energy to our community. With each contract we sign, not only are we creating more local electrons, we are creating jobs.

The hope is as more and more residents are able to access and afford local, clean energy we can create a demand the necessitates more employment.

This year Solarize Delta County saw twice as much traffic as last year’s pilot round and our installers have been busy conducting site visits and presenting proposals. We are shooting for 200 kW of solar this round, more than last year’s 120kW! At 6 new hired people last year, we hope we can create a demand that will increase local energy generation and local jobs.

There are a multitude of reasons to go solar, what might yours be? Whatever the reason we welcome you into the solar community. And thank you for supporting local, clean energy.


For more information or to participate:

Go to:

Google: Solarize Delta County

Facebook: “like” Solarize Delta County

Call: Gerald or Marla at (970) 527-7657 ext. 213


Go Solar. Simply. Together. Solarize Delta County!


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SEI Alumni Highlight: David Merritt

David Merritt: A Short Solar Biography

My first drive to Paonia to attend classes at Solar Energy International began near the Denver International Airport on I-70 West.  I had departed Raleigh Durham International in North Carolina a few hours earlier, and I was excited and just a little nervous about my decision to invest in a solar education two time zones away from home.  By the time I had turned south on Colorado 82 and picked up 133 at Carbondale, the State of Colorado had once again embraced my soul with its beauty.  Arriving, I parked at the Farmhouse on Pitkin Mesa that would be my home for two weeks and was astounded by the view of Mount Lamborn from the front porch.  Even if my study skills were lacking, I knew I would find peace and contentment in and around Paonia.

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Having arrived early, I spent a couple of days settling in and began my appreciation of this small town with and its big heart.  On Monday, I began PV101 in the classroom by Ollie’s Ice Cream, and embarked on a journey that eventually led to a job with a top North Carolina PV installer, Strata Solar out of Chapel Hill, NC.  I completed the PV201L hands-on lab course on the SEI campus my second week in Paonia.

Even before completing the five courses that compose the Residential and Commercial Photovoltaic Systems Certificate in which I had enrolled, my PV101 instructor Brian Mehalic, who works out of North Carolina, gave me some leads on work in my region.  Even though those first leads did not pan out, it was another SEI alumnus Brian knew at Strata who ended up hiring me as a Quality Assurance Technician on utility scale sites.  Kathy Swartz and Kathy Fontaine had, with enthusiasm, also passed on a job lead from an SEI alumni father and son team up in Virginia that appealed to me.  Unfortunately, the timing was out of synch for that opportunity.

Now, at the end of my first six weeks as a solar professional, I am thankful for a lot of people, places, and things that brought me to where I stand now, and to the future I can see from this new perspective.  Home Power magazine is where I learned of SEI, and after the passing of my dear mother in February of 2015, an unusual alignment of the stars began to take place for me.  Friends and family supported my dream of a solar future, and there were cousins to see in Colorado and Utah.  I had previously hiked part of the Colorado Trail, and knew the Western Slope would have plenty of fine country to offer while engaging in coursework at SEI.  Although there are many people at SEI to thank, I especially appreciate the efforts of those already mentioned along with those of Jess Finnigan and Kris Sutton.

Between introductory PV101 and the hands on PV201L lab of my first visit to Paonia, four classmates and I went to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to hike to the top of Green Mountain.  Every one of us had a different country of origin, and we bonded as fellow students, as fellow solar enthusiasts, and as fellow lovers of Paonia and the wonderful state of Colorado.  In spectacular places and with endearing folk who’d love to change the world, and who understand the pace of that change, I began my solar odyssey through SEI.

Solar Installer Training

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SEI Alumni Highlight: Derek Mast – Commitment to Continuing Education

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 6.14.55 AMDerek Mast, a foreman for a large, multi-state solar company. Derek has been in the solar industry for a year and a half and before joining the solar industry, Derek was an electrician for six years. He is one of several dozen employees his company has sent to SEI for training. They put all new hires through SEI’s introductory class and some employees, through more advanced solar training. Derek joined SEI for PV 351L, a hands-on lab class covering tools and techniques for operation and maintenance of PV systems. The course is advanced training designed for solar professionals like Derek, who are already working in the PV industry who want to take their technical skills to the next level ­and gain hands-­on experience with a wide range of advanced analytical tools and meters.

While Derek is an experienced electrician, he speaks to the need for training for everyone getting into the field. For himself, though he came from a strong technical background, he emphasizes the amount of knowledge and experience he needed to assimilate in order to fully understand the DC side of systems. And for anyone new to the field, he said “There’s a lot of stuff you don’t know that you don’t know you don’t know. Just getting some base level education is important. There’s a lot that can go wrong when you’re wiring up a solar system. And knowing how to install things well, figuring out what best practices and why they’re best practices is important as you’re learning your field.“

And why did his company send people to SEI for solar Installer training:  “My company really values bringing their students a lot of education through SEI”. He added that training really adds to the company’s overall effectiveness, increasing their reliability and diagnostic ability. While he definitely believes in on the job training Derek said “I can teach people on the job but I’m going to miss stuff that the course will take them through.”He added that he really appreciated the shared experience of instructors who have been in the field for such a long time who can speak to scenarios and systems that you encounter much but will eventually need to in your career. But even for his co-workers that are not directly involved installs, Derek emphasized that “my company puts everyone through PV101 online. It just gives so much context to everyone, even if they’re in accounting… It really helps communication within the company.”

Derek is enjoying his transition into solar, intrigued by all he is learning and the quickly advancing technology in the industry. He is quick to share his knowledge with his crew and excited to encourage everyone in the field to continue to learn and evolve with industry.

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Solar Installer Training Alumni Highlight: Jessica Wagner


SPCP_layerJessica Wagner – Bringing New Energy to a Historic Organization

As an applicant in SEI Solar Professionals Certificate Program, Jessica Wagner has been at SEI’s Training Facility in Paonia, Colorado for 6 weeks and she has impressed everyone with her passion and journey to get here. From the initial classes in Grid-Direct Design and Installation to the Advanced Multi-Mode Systems and energy storage technology, Jess has been engaged and diligent in her coursework and future career in the solar industry. Her interest in solar energy began early, intrigued by the PV modules atop her grandmother’s home, and leading to a third grade paper passionately declaring her intent to become an electrical engineer so she could install solar when she grew up. In fact, Jess did begin school to become an electrical engineer but there were some twists and turns in her journey to become a solar installer.

Sixteen years later, Jess is the mother of three children, living in Metamora, Illinois and bartending at the American Legion Post 1115. It was her job at the American Legion, among other things, that became a major impetus for her to begin her solar installer training. Jess witnessed daily the struggles for the Legion Post to stay open, their membership declined over the years while their expenses kept rising.

She began researching grants to help the legion and quickly found funding sources that utilized solar energy and the associated energy savings to support veterans programs. She knew this was a chance to make a lasting impact for the veterans she’d befriended at the Legion and to revive her long latent passion for solar energy. By beginning solar training, Jess could start a new career and work toward installing a PV system at the Legion, both to reduce their utility costs and (literally) bring some new energy to the organization.

Her choice of solar installer training provider was clear. Jess had been following SEI since 1998 and she didn’t hesitate to enroll. Her mother came from Florida to help care for her children while she travelled to SEI. Asked of her experience jumping into technical training after such a long break she said “I have a bit of an electrical/technical background, but SEI really meets you where you’re at. If you pay attention, you’ll get the knowledge that you need.” She added that she was thankful for the small class sizes and individualized attention as opposed to the huge “solar seminars” for 300 people she’d seen offered by other training providers. “The instructors are totally willing to stay after class to explain something in more detail or go over something in a different way to make sure you understand.” And of her instructors “the instructors are so knowledgeable… I’ve never seen teachers that are so qualified. They’ve been doing [solar] for years. They are in the field. This is their career.”

It was not only the instructors but the lab setting and small town location that drew her to Solar Energy International. About Paonia, Jess fervently recounts “I love it here! It’s a beautiful setting and there’s lots to do. It’s a mellow town where I can focus on my classwork and still go out in the evenings. Being in Paonia makes the learning experience really laid back.” Furthermore she’s had time to get to know her classmates, many of whom are also enrolled in the Solar Professionals Certificate Program. Though they are all enrolled in the same program, they are all coming from different backgrounds and places of experience. The classes and lab experience really allow them to share their knowledge on a peer level, where everyone can share their experience in construction, of previous solar installs, etc, in a really relatable way. Congratulations to Jess and fellow Certificate Track classmates and best of luck on the rest of your solar journeys.

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SEI Solar Training Instructor Spotlight: Laura Conchelos

SEI Welcomes New Instructor: Laura Conchelos

laura_CSEI Alumni Laura Conchelos recently came back to Solar Energy International (SEI), this time as an instructor. Prior Laura to coming to SEI, Laura spent seven years doing seasonal construction work where gained some experience with solar electric systems while working on off-grid cabins in New Hampshire. Her experience is like the many others who come from a construction background, bringing the many transferable skills when they make their career transition or expansion into the solar industry.  

It was a coworker in her former job that recommended SEI to Laura which eventually led to her enrollment in SEI’s solar PV training program. After she’d gotten a solid framework, it was SEI’s alumni and industry network that helped Laura land a job.

“My first job in the solar industry was in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Kathy Swartz (Executive Director of SEI) gave me the idea of the company to apply to. I did and spent the next three and a half years working there doing mostly grid-tied installations with a  with a number of other installers who had also been trained by SEI”

Being on an install crew where everyone had received solar installation training made a huge difference in the quality of the work say Laura “The company I worked for was really focused on training, on bringing people in slowly and giving people a really well-rounded experience. We got training on the job but the installers and designers we had that had been trained previously came with a good solid background and definitely knew their way around the roof and and around tolls and also were very familiar with the safety protocols involved in working with solar.”

Laura has recently moved back to Colorado working as a NABCEP Certified Installer and teaching at SEI. Her experience with a company that emphasizes training had a marked impact on her commitment to ongoing education in the industry. “Even though I’ve I’ve been in the industry for a few years now I definitely think it’s important to keep taking training and finding out what’s new in the industry. And there’s a requirement for training when you’re NABCEP Certified to take a certain number of hours of training to recertify. Regardless of the certification however it’s important to keep up with changes in the industry and the National Electric Code and training is a good way to do that.”


SEI is proud to welcome Laura to the team. She just completed her first teaching job instructing PV101:Solar Electric Design & Installation (Grid-Direct)  and PV201L: Solar Electric Lab Week (Grid-Direct).

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SEI Alumni Highlight: Noel Wichman – Veteran

Noel WichmannSolar Energy International (SEI) is proud to welcome Noel Wichman into SEI’s alumni network. Noel has the distinction of being the first student to utilize his Veterans Benefits to enroll in classes at SEI. Living just 10 miles away from SEI’s Campus in Paonia, CO, Noel’s drive to SEI was short but his journey to solar training was long. Noel’s interest been interested in the solar industry for two decades but only recently began solar installation training.

The impetus of SEI accepting Veterans Benefits for in-person classroom and hands-on lab training through SEI’s Solar Professionals Certificate Program (SPCP) was a marked turning point in his journey. Previously, Noel spent 13 years as active duty in the U.S. Air Force before working for a mining company in Colorado. Now, however, the time was ripe for a career transition. “I’ve always had a great interest in solar and it seems like the time is right for the whole industry…For better or for worse, solar is becoming more prominent in the energy industry and meeting the energy needs of the world.”

He chose to come to SEI to begin his career because of their longstanding reputation as a solar training provider and their commitment to hands-on education. “I’ve known about SEI for many, many years and the changes in the solar industry since I was first interested, which is almost 20 years ago, to now have been leaps and bounds. I need to be up to speed. From a practical perspective, hands-on experience with instructors who that have book knowledge and hands-on experience in the field, how can you beat that?”

And utilizing his Veterans Benefits was easier than expected. Speaking of his experience, Noel recounted that ““all I had to do to enroll using my GI bill funding at SEI was to give them my VA paperwork, saying how much I was approved for, 100% in my case, and everything else they did. We had a phone call for the courses and when I’d like to start and then it was hands off” In fact, though Noel was the first student to enroll using Veterans Benefits, there were several more who followed suit in his class alone.

For the other veterans and active duty military personnel looking forward in their careers? Noel highly recommended SEI’s solar installer training because of the straightforward enrollment process and engaging learning environment. When asked if he thought their was a place in the solar industry for members of the military Noel says: “I think there’s a lot of changes in the military in terms of environmental concerns where solar training would be very conducive to a future career in the military still, let alone afterwards. No question.”

And for anyone else starting a new career, Noel “would recommend  any kind of hands-on training to get your start in any industry, especially the solar industry. Nothing beats experience. Book learning is great. Hands-on is better.”

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Solar Energy International (SEI) Launches Solar Ready Colorado Training Outreach Program

Solar Ready Colorado logoBuilding upon Solar Energy International’s (SEI) technical solar training program that has been in operation for over 25 years with over 45,000 alumni worldwide – SEI is launching a Colorado based training and career outreach program titled – ​Solar Ready Colorado: Solar Professionals Training and Outreach Program​.

SEI will lead a team of industry partners to promote and offer SEI’s industry recognized technical solar energy training program and provide needed recruitment and career counseling services to key industries and workforce populations in the State of Colorado.

SEI will build upon current and past industry partnerships that include leading industry associations and the largest employers in the solar industry. These efforts will ensure Colorado’s talent pipeline will stay strong and be a national model for preparing our state’s workforce for the changing landscape of energy production and distribution. Solar Ready Colorado partner organizations include: Grid Alternatives | Colorado Office, SunRun, Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA), and the Delta County, Colorado Public School System.

Since 1991, SEI has trained over 1000 Coloradans, but there is more work to be done to ensure a highly skilled workforce ready to take on the increasing amount of solar installations being integrated year after year.  The Solar Ready Colorado initiative is focused campaign to expand SEI’s efforts in the activities of outreach and recruiting by providing dedicated staffing and outreach efforts to the Colorado specific market. As a national and global training provider, this program which is part of a matching grant program through the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s WORK Act Grant is empowering SEI to focus efforts in our home state of Colorado. Watch overview video of the SEI’s training experience >>

SEI’s current and historical training and outreach efforts over the last 25 years has resulted in growing the largest alumni network of people from all 50 states and more than 160 countries. With this is mind, we can do more for our home state of Colorado by targeting candidates within our own state’s boundaries to increase the number of individuals who enroll in and complete SEI’s skilled worker training program to prepare them for careers in the renewable energy sector. In 2015 alone, SEI trained 170 Coloradans and have trained over 1000 people from our home state since 1991. With a dedicated statewide effort – we can train so many more!

By creating a more targeted focus of outreach and training within Colorado, SEI will be able to increase the number of Coloradoans who can fill the predicted skilled workforce shortage in Colorado specifically in the solar industry. In a recent 2015 solar jobs report, Colorado ranks in the top 10 nationally for solar jobs with almost 5000 employed in the sector growing exponentially (over 173% growth in the last 10 years) as compared to other energy sectors like coal mining activities. Colorado is attracting large solar PV investors and projects into our state and it is crucial for Colorado to have a trained and skilled workforce to take on these projects vs. skilled labor human resources being brought in from other states.

View Training Schedule >>

Coloradoans need to be aware of the solar industry and the growth of career opportunities in this sector. Furthermore, they need to understand how to access the training and certification needed to become active participants in this industry. In addition to providing the industry’s most respected technical training, a targeted informational campaign will be deployed to help connect people with transferable skills into SEI’s training program and connect them with our program employer partners. This will be accomplished by working with the Colorado Department of Labor and industry partners who have agreed to be active members of this program.

SEI’s training and outreach program will ensure an employment pipeline within Colorado to not only prepare adult skilled workers with transferable skills, but also youth. This program will target graduating High School students through SEI’s Solar in the Schools Outreach Career and Technical Education program to prepare them for the solar energy workforce and the growing renewable energy economy in Colorado.

The solar industry plays a huge role in leveraging workers from Colorado’s key industries. From Energy & Natural Resources, Infrastructure Engineering, Technology & Information, and Electronics – the solar industry draws upon all of these areas to successfully deploy residential, commercial, and utility scale solar PV installations across the state.

The SEI Solar Professionals Certificate Program is a rigorous multi-course / multi-track technical training program to help ensure the success of our students and provide a highly skilled workforce for the solar industry. This program provides the most comprehensive technical training in the solar industry with paths to graduation and earning the following SEI Professional Certificates: Residential and Commercial Photovoltaic Systems Certificate – Battery-Based Photovoltaic Systems Certificate – Solar Business and Technical Sales Certificate – and the Renewable Energy Applications Certificate. Multiple Certificates can be earned by adding courses to an original Certificate Path.

View Training Schedule >>

Educational hours earned from SEI’s training is approved for NABCEP Certification and Continuing Education, which is the most recognized certification in the industry. Employer partnerships through this grant will also strengthen the feedback loop between industry and SEI as the training provider to determine current, future, and critical solar industry workforce needs.

An individual Record of Completion with earned training hours will be issued at the end of each successfully completed individual training course. Once the participant completes the full multi-course program of training with SEI (completing at least 200 training hours), the SEI Solar Professionals Certificate will be awarded to the graduate to indicate the chosen track of study, area of emphasis, and total training hours earned. This SEI Solar Professionals Certificate Program is recognized, certified, and governed by the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s Division of Occupational Schools.

For more information about SEI’s Solar Ready Colorado initiative, contact:
Christopher Turek, Director of Marketing and Alumni Relations, Solar Energy International (SEI) – or by calling 970-527-7657 x115

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