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Warehouse Manager, Solar City
Green Collar Employee, Berkeley, California
California currently is the nation’s leader in solar energy generation and it wants to retain that ranking. The state’s California Solar Initiative’s goal is to have photovoltaic arrays on 1 million rooftops—the equivalent of 3,000 megawatts of power—by 2017. The state also is offering rebates as high as $2.50 per watt to homes and businesses to stimulate development. For more information, go to Go Solar California.
Rodney Lee, 29, grew up in the shadow of Chevron. His hometown of Richmond, California, is the site of one of the oil company’s refineries. It’s also the epicenter of some of the highest asthma and cancer rates in the state, and the city has soaring murder rates and gang violence problems.
After graduating from high school, Lee worked a string of different minimum-wage jobs until complications from lupus left him unemployed for more than six months. Unsure about what his next step should be, Lee enrolled in one of the first classes at Richmond BUILD, a public-private partnership launched by the city in May 2007 to teach residents job skills and expose them to the renewable energy industry.
The free, 10-week program included training in electricity, safety, plumbing, construction, and solar panel installation. Lee had never heard of solar power before taking the Richmond BUILD course, but something about that part of the curriculum struck a chord with him. So, after graduating, Lee got a job as a warehouse manager at Solar City in Berkeley.
“There were a lot of other jobs I could have pursued,” he said, “such as being a carpenter or being a plumber like my other classmates, but I chose renewable energy because it had the extra bonus of doing something good for the environment.”
Lee’s current position requires him to maintain all of the supplies associated with Solar City’s installation projects--ordering parts for upcoming jobs, stocking panels, transporting materials to job sites, and tracking crew spending. He hopes one day to move into project management.
He is making more than three times what he made in his previous jobs, and the fact that Solar City is the top installation company in the country makes the job a true growth opportunity.
“The solar industry is in high demand right now,” said Lee. “I just feel like I’m in the right place at the right time.”
Lee’s job in renewable energy has prodded him to make environmentally responsible decisions in his life outside of work. “I’m more aware of electricity and water conservation,” he said. “Everyone at Solar City recycles. All those little things add up if we all do it.” Lee also joined the board of Solar Richmond, the local nonprofit organization responsible for Richmond BUILD’s solar training program.
Lee said the Richmond program is a good way to build community by helping people who were “going in the wrong direction and needed a little push to get back on track.” The program, he said, helps young people get in touch with their community and take responsibility for it.
“Growing up in Richmond, you have all of the refineries right there,” he said. “Most of the people in this area have problems with asthma. We need to be more aware of the pollution problem because it’s right here in our own backyard.”