A GRID Alternatives Love Story: One Vet Gets to Live his Solar Dream


September 11, 2014

Jim McMahan may be retired but that sure doesn’t slow him down.  He gets out on every install he can with GRID Alternatives.  As one of our most dedicated volunteers Jim jumped at the chance to become a team leader.  For him, volunteering with GRID is a full time job.  He recently closed his home repair business and dedicates much of his time to GRID.  “I rarely do any other job besides to go and help a neighbor or something, but other than that I try to get to all the installs that GRID offers.  No matter where they are at I try to go.”  That includes GRID Colorado’s Solar Roadshow this summer, where Jim came all across the state to help us make the event successful.

He is one of our biggest fans and loves to talk about what GRID means to him.  His time with us helps him pursue his interest in solar and he also enjoys the chance to empower others and spread the word.  Growing up very poor, Jim can identify with other’s struggles and enjoys being a part of real change.

Jim’s love for solar started decades ago.  In a woodworking class he participated in a group project to create a solar cooker, warming a hot dog on a chilly Michigan spring day.  One swine sausage later he was hooked.  “I thought the whole idea behind solar, collecting power from the sun, was the way to go.”

His solar dreams didn’t become a reality right away, however.  He ended up joining the military and working on aircrafts, where he got to work with DC energy, keeping him up on electricity and DC principles.  After college he began flying helicopters for the army and did that for seven years.   When his time came up with that position, he knew he was done flying the stressful Medevac rescue and living in a hanger.

Not long after this he began to help his sister with her business making signs and exhibits at the Pentagon. He planned only to stay for 6 months but the company grew so fast, they became partners.  When 9/11 happened their shop was only 20 minutes from pentagon and they had security access.  So it was left up to them to make the emergency signs needed, like morgue directions.  Their company was picked to work with the 9-11 memorial.  It’s still there, sitting 25 feet from where the tip of the plane went in.  It wasn’t long before others began to call wanting similar exhibits, and it just became too much.  Jim gave his sister all of his stock and took off to Colorado, like he had planned years before, to make his solar dreams come true.

Before Jim ever worked with GRID he had the chance to learn from some of the best in the solar field at Solar Energy International, one of GRID Colorado’s job training partners.  “What impressed me about SEI is that there were people that were totally committed to introducing solar to anybody that would listen. And they were very focused on what they were doing and they were very serious about what they were doing and they were committed.  And I was like hey, now I have someone that I know is going to be around and is committed to teaching solar.  It was very personal back then, small classes, and that’s what I liked about it, personal attention.  The quality of their instruction was comparable to any professional instruction I’ve had at any university. They covered every single topic and had people from the industry so you had real life instruction.  The good thing is if you ever had any questions or anything you could call and ask them.  That’s when I knew I wanted to pursue solar full time. “

And through education and hands-on experience with Solar Energy International and GRID Alternatives, Jim gets to do that.  But he isn’t the only one who benefits here.  GRID Colorado gets an outstanding team leader that continues to go above and beyond, spreading our mission and services to the larger community.  And for that, we are grateful.