One day at The Energy Fair and I am totally inspired all over again. Before I head back over this morning, I have to tell the world about the awesomeness of this organization (the Midwest Renewable Energy Association) and the community where we (and it) live. Seriously, it’s so amazing here it’s kind of gross. In all the good ways, of course. Really, you should come!

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Yesterday, we attended a ribbon cutting ceremony for the official unveiling of MREA’s new solar canopy for their electric vehicle charging station. The charging station allows electric cars to plug in and recharge with energy created entirely by the sun.  The MREA developed their “Driving on Sunshine” campaign years ago in recognition of the imminent and very exciting transition to a clean energy transportation system nationwide. As I learned and wrote last year, a transition to clean energy is not just about the future. We are in the midst of a large-scale, mainstream transition to renewable energy in our country and around the world. The future is now.

Even with recent political disincentives and increasing subsidies for dirty energy competitors in the United States and states like ours (Wisconsin), solar is still winning. Solar power is the cheapest electron on the market RIGHT NOW. More people are employed by the renewable energy industry in our country TODAY than in oil, coal, and gas combined. What?! Yes!!

I should have called this post, “Jobs, Jobs, and more Jobs!” Seriously, the growth and quality of renewable energy jobs across the United States and the world right now is staggering. Renewable energy companies can barely keep up with ever rising demand. The number one bottleneck throughout every node on the renewable energy supply chain is finding staff with the training and qualifications they need. Want a job that’s in demand and going to stay that way for a while? Get training in renewable energy.

According to MREA Director, Nick Hylla,”In the US, there are more than twice as many people currently working in the solar industry than in the coal industry. The jobs have a higher median income, lower health risks, and exist in communities across the country. They are jobs that can’t be exported. They contribute to the local economy. They don’t cause pollution. And, we are just getting started. A young person right now can make a long, rewarding career in the solar industry.”

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The most exciting area of growth at the moment is the electrification of transportation in the United States. Couple that with the rapidly decreasing cost of installing solar and other types of renewable energy, and it’s easy to see how quickly we can and are transitioning to a radically cleaner transportation system and growing a HUGE new job market.

So yesterday, the MREA unveiled and officially turned on a solar vehicle charging station that will provide a high tech location for hands-on professional training and will vastly expand the reach of electric cars in our state. A charging station made possible by the vision of an incredible staff and board, and the generosity and talent of a diverse and impressive group of partners and MREA members.

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The canopy project really took off when founding MREA member, Jim Kerbel, came to Nick Hylla (MREA’s Director) with a long list of solar modules his company, PV Systems, planned to donate for the project. Then, he went on to not only donate the labor for his staff to assist with the installation, but he also insisted on paying for all of his staff to “attend” the installation training. You see, the MREA never just installs renewable energy. Installations are always a learning opportunity with an associated workshop to train more professionals in the field. Then the installation, in this case, the charging station and PV canopy, will continue to be a resource for public education and professional  training for years to come.

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Now that they had the panels they needed, they needed to find a company that could build a framing system strong enough to securely hold them. Enter Poly-tex. They offered a huge discount on the solar mounting system that would be needed. Then North Wind Renewable Energy Cooperative stepped in to donate all the labor needed to upgrade the electric service for the vehicle chargers. This is especially cool since much of the North Wind staff received their early professional training from the MREA and have since launched a successful business with the skills they gained.

Even with all this support, more cash was needed to round out the funding required to make this project a reality. RENEW Wisconsin stepped up to provide a grant from their totally awesome new program called “Solar for Good” that provides $10,000 grants to non-profit organizations across Wisconsin to help them go solar. They have already given out 30 grants ($300,000!!) thanks to generous support from the Couillard Foundation. Lots of other organizations and MREA members gave too. Even Organic Valley chipped in. They already donate all the food needed to offer a $5 totally organic breakfast at the MREA cafe every morning of the Fair, then donate all the money earned at the cafe back to the organization. But, they needed to be a part of this too, because it is awesome and so are they.

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So yeah, the Energy Fair, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, and this community are so great it’s gross. I hope you’ll come some day, but even if you can’t make it to the middle of Wisconsin to attend the largest and longest running Energy Fair in the country, keep finding ways to support the expansion of renewable energy and clean energy jobs in your community. Wherever you are, know that the education and training happening here is rippling out across the country. Momentum is building. The renewable energy future we’ve all been hoping for is here. The future is now.

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See, it wasn’t just me who thought it was a big deal – thanks Channel 7 (WSAW), Channel 9 (WAOW), and WPR!

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Becoming a member of the MREA is a great way to support their work!!