Gunnison County: The lasting impact of Solar Forward on communities

Gunnison County: The lasting impact of Solar Forward on communities

Nunatek Alternative Energy Solutions was the chosen solar installation company for the Solarize Gunnison County program, which launched with the help of Solar Forward technical consulting in 2019. A year out from the program launch, Lena Wilensky of Nunatek reports on the positive impact Solar Forward, and the Solarize Gunnison program, has had on the business. 

According to Lena, Nunatek AES has been installing in the Gunnison Valley since 2006. The installation company serves the Gunnison Valley (Mt. Crested Butte, Crested Butte, Almont, and Gunnison), as well as Lake City and Pitkin, in addition to a number of off-grid communities in the region. 

Solar Forward is SEI’s technical consulting program that leverages SEI’s industry-leading solar expertise to empower local groups to kickstart local solar markets in rural communities, creating jobs and economic resiliency.  The program partnered with Coldharbour Institute fellows at Western Colorado University’s Masters of Environmental Management program as program coordinators, who engaged Nunatek as chosen installers. 

“Before the Solar Forward Program, there seemed to be modest interest in solar installations, but mostly from people either building new homes, or people buying homes who had solar installations on their prior homes,” Lena explained.  “ I think many people who had lived here for a while thought that solar would be out of their budgets and not worth exploring.”  

The impact of the program, especially the educational component, already appears to be having a sustainable impact. “The Solar Forward program made people come out and actually inquire about solar installations, and I think made solar seem more accessible. The excitement was somewhat contagious, and even people who we had talked with about solar a few years back came out and decided it was now time to buy a system!  Now it seems like more and more people are at least inquiring about solar, and a lot of them are finding out it is a good choice for them,” Lena said. 

The results of the campaign have spanned beyond the number of installs as well. Lena explained:

“The work done by the Solar Forward team on changing local net metering policies came to fruit toward the end of the summer, making PV more feasible within the City of Gunnison for the near future.  Through events and local marketing efforts from Solar Forward, there seems to be a lot of discussion happening around renewable energy in the community now, and a lot more people are inquiring about solar for their homes, and other solar projects in the valley that will help lower our carbon footprint as well as increase options for renewable energy for people who don’t have a good spot to put solar panels on their home, or a home to put them on.” 

The program also directly impacted business, creating more solar installation jobs in the community. “The Solar Forward program had a number of direct positive impacts for our business. Probably the first and most obvious impact was that of increasing our sales and allowing us to hire more full time crew members.  We just about doubled our sales from 2018 to 2019, and 2018 had been our biggest year before this past one.” 

The Solar Forward program has made solar more accessible in Gunnison County for the community as a whole. “I would absolutely recommend the Solar Forward Program, both for installers and for communities.  There will always be people who think solar is beyond their reach, or they may not have known where to start to see if solar is a good fit for their home. Solar Forward makes all this information more accessible, and gives people a reason to take the time to find out more.”

More information on how your community can participate in the Solar Forward program.   

More information on Nunatek Alternative Energy Solutions.

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