Read about Kelli Roemer’s experience putting together solar energy workshops in Montana:
Crafted by the complex minds of engineers and laced with terror inspiring words and phrases like photovoltaics or uninterruptable power supply, renewable energy systems can intimidate even the most active sustainability enthusiasts. The severe knowledge gaps between the innovators and the public create disastrous opportunity for misinformation, misguidance and will ultimately slow progress and support.
This realization struck a few weeks ago at the 2014 Harvesting Clean Energy Conference in Helena, Montana. Surrounded by policy masters, engineers, and renewable energy gurus, I was captivated by the variety and sophistication of the projects and presentations. However, in all honesty, I was out of my league. It was like watching a foreign film without subtitles. I understood the general plot because of pictures and body language, but wasn’t able to identify key plot points or character names.
At first, I was embarrassed. How could I be so frequently exposed to renewable energy experts and presentations and still be scared of the word photovoltaics? Once the embarrassment eased, this experience cemented the need for widespread and accessible energy education. Energy Corps members all over nation are directly addressing this need by going into classrooms, club meetings, and community events and presenting on the basics of renewable energy.
My turn came this February, when I was assigned to plan two solar energy workshops in Great Falls and Billings, Montana. These workshops targeted local businesses interested in commercial application of solar energy. These seminars were to provide a basic overview of solar electricity, explanation of financing options and tax incentives (another beast in its own right), and various grant opportunities for funding rural projects. This is a lot of information to unload, and I needed to call in the professionals. Christopher Borton from the Sage Mountain Center and Kathi Montgomery from the Montana DEQ, both members of the Montana Renewable Energy Association, were generous with their patience and graciously shared their knowledge with me.
After months of planning the logistics of the workshops—reserving space, refreshments, writing contracts, and advertising—I was able to stand back watch professional energy educators break down photovoltaics (photo=light; volt=electricity) and energy tax code and make this information accessible. I was able to share that ah-ha moment with the audience as my foreign film got subtitles.
Those who attended the workshops sited significant knowledge gained and several have already taken the first steps to applying for renewable project funding for solar application. Closing the knowledge gap and making this information accessible is a key component of Energy Corps’ mission statement. For the rest of my service and then after, I will do my best to propel these goals in energy education and inspire ah-ha moments in others.
Kelli Roemers graduated from the University of Montana in 2012 with a B.S. in Resource Conservation. She has worked in everything from the industrial barley fields to outdoor education in Glacier National Park. She is excited to gain professional experience and development with the Energy Corps program. Kelli serves with Lewis and Clark County in Helena, MT. She coordinates the L&C Green Team, the Citizen Conservation Board, assist with the implementation of the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals for Helena, and educate the public about available energy and water audits in Lewis and Clark, Jefferson, and Broadwater Counties.