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Solar Richmond at the Forefront of Green Jobs Training Programs

April 27, 2009

Solar Richmond (SR) is a solar panel installation green jobs training program that works with the City of Richmond to train and employ Richmond’s low-income residents and youth.

The City of Richmond faces challenging local demographics: 18 percent of residents live below the poverty line (twice that of the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area) and 71 percent of residents have only a high school diploma. In September 2008, Richmond unemployment was 11 percent as compared to 6.7 percent in the entire Bay Area. What’s more Richmond has suffered severe consequences from the country’s dependency on oil since it hosts one of the largest Chevron oil refineries in the United States.

However, with support of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Solar Richmond has begun to address these tough challenges. It works to promote solar energy on all fronts including advocating for local policies to support the solar industry, providing solar panel installation training and job placement for Richmond’s disadvantaged populations, offering low-cost solar panel installation for low-income homeowners, and supplying a bidding service to residents interested in installing solar panels in their homes.

The training program includes a summer youth component through which local youth are hired, trained in energy, environmental justice and employment issues, and sent into the local community to talk about solutions to these problems with local residents and businesses. As part of the low-income solar installation element, SR offers a deferred loan program to low-income homeowners who are interested in solarizing their homes. Recently, the New York Times bestseller “The Green Economy” by Van Jones highlighted Solar Richmond as a pioneer in the green-collar jobs sector (pgs 123-125).


Executive Director Michele McGeoy started Solar Richmond in 2006, after witnessing an “eco-divide” at her previous employers both in the tech world of Silicon Valley and at Real Goods Solar. She began by using YouthWorks participants to install a solar panel on a client’s roof, and subsequently created a 1-week solar training course which has since evolved into an intensive 5-week program. McGeoy created the organization to address the environmental and economic challenges facing the City of Richmond.


At its inception, Solar Richmond created three long-term goals for the City of Richmond, which it hopes to exceed in 2009: 1) create 100 new green-collar jobs for Richmond residents, 2) Install 50 solar-electric systems on low-income houses, and 3) Promote solar in order to reach 5 megawatts of solar-electric power in Richmond.

Solar Richmond tracks its progress through a comprehensive evaluation process consisting of entrance and exit evaluations of students, frequent follow-up evaluations of employed graduates, caseworkers, and employers, and quality of service and satisfaction evaluations from building owner clients. Evaluation results are compiled with the number of graduates and job placements to measure growth and find new ways to enhance the local solar industry.

Since it was launched in 2006, Solar Richmond has completed seven solar training programs, each consisting of about 20 trainees, placed 21 graduates in permanent full-time green collar jobs and ten graduates in temporary solar jobs. SR has installed solar panels on eight low-income homes as part of the culmination of each solar training program and has set up solar-electric systems in residential and commercial buildings throughout the San Francisco Bay Area through the pilot solar staffing agency, including a 500kw commercial building in Richmond and 175kw waste water plant in Marin.

Thanks to Solar Richmond, the Richmond city government has adopted a City Council resolution to solarize Richmond City Hall with 200kw of solar panels, eliminate the permit fees on solar installation for Richmond homeowners, and create a groundbreaking solar thermal rebate program promoting local green jobs.

Other Involvement

Solar Richmond has formed partnerships throughout the green sector including local government, non-profit organizations, and private businesses. Its Five-Week Solar Electric & Solar Thermal Installation Training program is part of the City of Richmond’s RichmondBUILD pre-apprentice construction training program, and the Low-Cost Solar Installation for Low-Income Homeowners installs solar panels through the non-profit organization Grid Alternatives based in Oakland, CA. It also has close ties with Green for All, Van Jones and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Lessons Learned

Green jobs training programs must take on a comprehensive approach to ensure their graduates enjoy lasting success in the workforce. The program must integrate hands-on experience with a strong foundation in basic math and computer skills to ensure that students can adapt to rapidly evolving technology. Strong partnerships with both public and private entities with clear agreements between all sides are essential to developing and maintaining a comprehensive green jobs training program.

Advice for Mayors

Mayors are essential in facilitating partnerships across the many different facets of the solar industry as they have ties to community groups, City and Employment Training departments, and non-profit organizations. They can also support green jobs training programs by creating a demand for green jobs. They can bring in green business, give residents incentives to ‘go solar’ through programs like the Solar Thermal Rebate Program, and solarize city buildings creating a ‘closed loop’ of local green jobs demand and a local green-collar workforce. Mayors are instrumental in providing publicity and outreach not only for individual green jobs training programs, but also the entire green movement by promoting the ‘triple bottom line’: social justice, environmental health, and economic equity.


Ms. Michele McGeoy Executive Director of Solar Richmond
360 S. 27th Street
Richmond, CA 94804
(510) 621-1721