This blog post was written by Shirlondra Brooks, Elevate’s Program Manager of Workforce Development.
Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.
The clean energy economy isn’t just about energy and cost savings on the customer’s end. It’s also about building businesses for contractors and increasing job opportunities for people who have historically lacked access to the industry.
Solar installers, HVAC and plumbing companies, insulation and air-sealing experts, electricians, and others have grown and thrived by adding energy efficiency and renewables to their list of services. This work helps to move us all into a cleaner energy future. Elevate seeks to ensure that equity is at the core of this transition by providing training, workshops, and other resources to support business growth for growing and diverse contractors. One great example of this kind of work is the Edwards Clean Energy Contractor Accelerator.
The Edwards Clean Energy Contractor Accelerator
In late 2019, a settlement was approved in a case against the owner of the E.D. Edwards coal-fired power plant located in Bartonville, Illinois, near Peoria. The settlement required Edwards’s owner to close the plant by the end of 2022 and provide $8.6 million in funding for projects to benefit the greater Peoria area. Through this funding, the Edwards Clean Energy Contractor Accelerator was created.
The Edwards Clean Energy Contractor Accelerator was a collaborative effort with Elevate, Ameren, GBG, Inc., and Business Services Collective. The Accelerator provided contractors and small businesses with technical and business support, with the intention for them to apply their knowledge to grow their business in energy efficiency. Interested contractors attended an information session where they received an overview of the Edwards project and participation requirements. After, they applied for the Accelerator and were contacted to further discuss their current business scopes, plans to grow their business, and support services and resources needed to help sustain their accounting and project tracking systems over time.
Contractors selected to participate in the Accelerator attended workshops with content delivered by both Elevate and partner subject matter experts. These topics included an introduction to the solar industry, insurance requirements, financing, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), and the Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program. Throughout the accelerator, contractors were provided with one-on-one consulting based on and tailored to their business needs. Since every business is different in terms of staff capacity, immediate needs, and desired pathway for growth, this adaptability was essential.
Contractor Success Stories
Many of our participating contractors were able to have some successful outcomes prior to completing the Accelerator. One of our most notable success stories was Hosea Washington of Alegna, Inc. Hosea took full advantage of the additional technical training available for his BPI certification. He had the opportunity to shadow a contractor currently connected to the industry on a few energy assessments and scope writing opportunities. Now, Hosea knows how to conduct an energy assessment, how to formulate a scope of work, and the customer service aspect of engaging energy efficiency clients.
Graduates of the Edwards Clean Energy Contractor Accelerator
Another success story is Karen and Ben Luedtke of Bella Power Services, another graduate of the Edwards Accelerator. Karen and Ben have had six residential solar jobs in central Illinois since the cohort. They are participating in Elevate’s Solar Photovaltaic Installation classes in Fall of 2022. They are also completing the ILSFA Approved Vendor process, and it should be finalized in Fall 2022 as well.
Karen says, “Although life is hectic, it was nice to carve out some time for some professional learning and growth with Elevate, guests, and some intelligent entrepreneurs who are genuinely cool people. I hope to stay connected for years to come.”
Alegna and Bella Power Services are two of the wonderful successes from the Edwards Accelerator and the suite of services provided related to business growth. It’s important to continue offering this work to engage more people of color and women-owned businesses.
The opportunities created through the Edwards Clean Energy Contractor Accelerator will assist small to medium-sized businesses with building capacity to increase project size, number of projects, and their ability to hire those newly trained in the clean energy economy. As the rapidly growing field of clean energy develops, Elevate wants to ensure that everyone can take advantage of the benefits and opportunities it creates.
The basis for the Accelerator is to educate, engage, and support contractors through their journey of expanding into the clean energy space. In meeting this goal, we recognized that some needs are high-priority, and in many cases foundational, for contractors to move their business forward.
One of the most common needs we saw from contractors was understanding how to navigate the Climate and Equitable Job Act (CEJA) and the provisions outlined in the legislation. Delivering a presentation around CEJA was simply not enough. A full dissection of the information was crucial for contractors to understand equity-eligible communities, the benefits of engaging workforce training programs to access pipeline talent, clean energy contractor incubator programs, and the new equity and labor standards, all of which align with access to funds.
Additionally, we learned that another challenge for our contractors was solving for financing options and their potential customers to help solidify more projects and keep a steady cashflow.