house with solar thermal panels

Conservation Corps Minnesota and RREAL bring solar heat to Leech Lake families

The goal of the Renewable Energy Outreach Project was to promote the benefits of solar heating systems, particularly for low-income households in Northwest Minnesota.

Conservation Corps Minnesota (CCM) collaborated with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL), a nonprofit organization that has been manufacturing and installing solar heat furnaces since 2000, to sponsor a Solar Air Heat Outreach Specialist apprenticeship to educate and engage service organizations and energy interests in addressing energy poverty through long-term renewable solutions.

The NW CERT Seed Grant helped CCM enroll two half-time specialists, Adam Mehr and Ryan Meyer, in apprenticeship positions during 2014 to do energy outreach work in Northwestern Minnesota.

At RREAL’s headquarters and manufacturing facility in Pine River, MN the apprentices received specialized training on energy issues, renewable energy and solar technologies, and solar thermal system assembly and installation. They were also trained in safety procedures when conducting installations, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and home/site requirements for the Solar Assistance program, Community Action Program (CAP) agency process for qualifying candidates, and funding sources for RREAL’s Solar Assistance program.

Besides tabling and presenting at over fifteen events during the year, Adam and Ryan were able to get some solar projects up and running in the region, notes Cindy Dorn, Development Director with CCM: “Over the course of 2014, RREAL worked with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe to install solar air heat systems on five tribal households. Adam helped coordinate RREAL’s Solar Assistance process for these installs while Ryan carried out much of the installation and client education. Adam also performed data analysis and generated performance reports for two of Leech Lake’s governmental facilities.”

After the project was completed, there was additional good news. “One of the apprentices enrolled in our 2014 program, Adam Mehr, was hired as a part-time RREAL employee after his Conservation Corps term ended on December 15,” says Dorn. “He will use his knowledge and connections gained over the past year to continue education and outreach efforts in the region. There is still much work to do in the Northwest!”

Northwest CERT supported this project with a $7,000 Seed Grant awarded during the 2014 round.

Project Snapshot:

  • Location: Northwestern MN
  • Activity: Implementation, Outreach
  • Technology: Renewable Energy – Solar Air Heat, Solar Hot Water, Solar Electric
  • Total cost: $38,772
  • CERT Funding: $7,000
  • Estimated Energy Produced: 38 million BTUs per year
  • People Involved & Reached: 587

Want to learn how your community can get a CERTs Seed Grant to advance your work? Applications for the next round of grants are available and due October 26th. To get started, visit the Seed Grant page and see other awarded projects from past years.

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