Looking for 2020’s silver lining? Find it on 28th Street in Boulder, Colorado

It’s no secret that 2020 was a difficult year. In Colorado we experienced one of the longest and strongest wildfire seasons in our state's history. Autumn temperatures soared in the 90’s and plummeted below freezing, and of course, we faced challenges posed by COVID-19. Despite wildfire smoke, snow storms, and a global pandemic, GRID Tribal Program’s work to promote energy sovereignty and job readiness continued. 

Following a week-long online Solar 101 training, a cohort of trainees converged in Boulder to gain hands-on solar installation experience. Over the course of seven weeks the group assembled racking, installed 1,628 solar panels, and wired up the system to complete a 628 kW ground mount project. 

The project was a partnership with the Boulder Housing Partners and the energy produced by the array will offset utility costs for low-income housing residents in Boulder.  

For many participants it was their first time working on a construction site, but what trainees lacked in experience they made up for in willingness to learn and motivation to maintain site safety.  

“I felt safe and protected throughout the entirety of the project,” said Keya Clairmont, who is Sicángu Lakhota, Sisíthunwan Dakhóta, Leech Lake Ojibwe, Meskwaki and Taos Pueblo. “It helped that everyone was looking out for one another.”

Safety was a top priority, particularly this year. Participants completed an online COVID-19 screening before attending work each day. They maintained physical distance and wore masks at all times. Boulder was considered a Coronavirus hot spot during the entirety of the training. Trainees accepted personal responsibility to maintain personal health and the health of everyone on site. 

In addition to COVID-19 protocols, trainees obtained their OSHA 10 certifications, and were outfitted with full PPE (personal protective equipment) including steel toe boots, a hard hat, eye and ear protection, gloves, and reusable face coverings. 

In true 2020 fashion, the project itself came with its fair share of obstacles, rocky ground meant the steel piles supporting the array were driven inaccurately and one of Colorado’s largest wildfires in the states history burned within miles of the job site. 

Each trainee took the challenges in stride and demonstrated commitment to the project and to their fellow team members. 

“I felt the training and installation made me stronger physically as well as mentally because of problem solving and the physical effort we put into the project,” said Tessa McLean, who is Ojibwe and a Denver resident.

Estevan Mora, a trainee who traveled from Albuquerque, NM to participate in the installation used the skills he gained on site to earn a job with the New Mexico Solar group in his hometown. Kai Willink also from Albuquerque joined the group as well. Both have used the experience on site in Boulder to obtain jobs with New Mexico Solar Group in Albuquerque.

“Before I was just trying to get any basic job to get by,” said Kai. “Now I have pursued getting a job in a huge and growing business so I won’t have to worry about a career for the future.”

The Boulder Housing Partners solar training and installation was truly a bright spot in an otherwise uncertain time. It was an opportunity for growth and learning, and ultimately an opportunity for collaboration and community when so much of this year was spent in isolation.

Special thanks to our partners at Blue Lake Rancheria.