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August 29, 2014

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Solar pioneer proudly a ‘green’ poster boy

Environmental group points to electrician, others as examples of clean energy’s promise

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Tiffany Brown

Chris Brooks leads the continent in solar photovoltaic panel installations performed since 2004, the year he teamed with Bombard Electric. He will appear in a Sierra Club campaign starting today.

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Jimmy Massimino, left, and Serge Bergen of Bombard Electric install solar panels this month at Alfred Merrit Smith Water Treatment Plant at Lake Mead. More than 3,000 jobs such as this would be created in Nevada if the federal government were to require utilities to buy 20 percent of their power from renewable sources, according to a report.

Solar Home Tour

  • What: The American Solar Energy Society’s National Solar Tour, showcasing Las Vegas homes with solar panels.
  • When: April 5, starting at 9 a.m.
  • Where: Pick up a tour guidebook at Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. The self-guided tour closes at 4 p.m.
  • Tickets: $15, or $10 for those driving hybrid vehicles. Advance registration is required.
  • Info: solarnv.org for more details or to purchase tickets.

Beyond the Sun

When Chris Brooks started his business in 2001, no other company in Las Vegas specialized in installing solar panels.

But since 2004, when he teamed with the state’s largest electrical contractor, Bombard Electric, Brooks has spearheaded the installation of more solar photovoltaic panels than any other company in North America.

Brooks, an electrician from a long line of electricians, says photovoltaic — or PV — panels have become a passion, even an obsession, for him. They’ve also been good business.

“We have so much sun, and we have so many energy problems,” Brooks said. “Before I started there wasn’t anyone who could install” a system that connected to Nevada Power Co.’s grid.

Since he started his business Brooks has installed more than 20 megawatts of PV — enough to serve about 15,000 homes — on a military base and on houses and businesses throughout the valley and across Nevada.

That has the Sierra Club pointing to Brooks and Bombard Electric’s renewable energy division as an example of the good “green” companies can do — and the money they can make at the same time.

The club is telling Brooks’ story, and those of clean energy pioneers in eight other states, as part of its $1 million Power2Change education campaign, which begins today. For the campaign, the Sierra Club has five new organizers in Nevada, one of nine states in which the organization will be collecting signatures on petitions that call on all candidates on the 2008 ballot to support clean energy.

“The choices we make in 2008 will define our future, especially when it comes to the election and energy issues,” said Lydia Ball, a regional representative of the Sierra Club. “The contrast could not be sharper — we can move forward to a clean energy economy that creates jobs, saves consumers money and solves global warming, or we can continue the expensive, polluting policies of the past.”

The club will also campaign in Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In Nevada, the Sierra Club is also highlighting the work of Steve Rypka, owner of green living consulting company GreenDream Enterprises, and Michele Burkett, a Mesquite resident who has helped lead opposition to a coal-fired power plant proposed for 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

A Power2Change report released today estimates a federal law requiring utilities to buy 20 percent of their power from renewable sources would create more than 3,000 “green collar” jobs in Nevada alone.

Already, the state’s abundant sunshine has helped Bombard’s renewable energy division grow to employ 30 full-time workers. And the division’s staff at times has swelled to more than 100 electricians when it has grown so busy with large projects that it has borrowed employees from other Bombard divisions.

The company installed Nellis Air Force Base’s 14-megawatt photovoltaic system, which opened in December, and PV on parking structures and reservoirs for the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

It has also helped turn sunlight into electricity at the Lied Animal Shelter and more than 100 homes across the valley.

Bombard also has a 30-kilowatt system on its own roof, and Brooks has a 4.5-kilowatt system on his home.

Although Bombard is the largest PV installer in the state by far, Brooks said there’s room for more solar businesses employing electricians in Southern Nevada.

“All the jobs we’ve created just doing solar are good, high-paying, union jobs,” Brooks said, adding that an average installer makes about $70,000 a year. “It’s a new economy that’s begun and will just keep growing. That’s why we try to stay on top of the technology.”

The Sierra Club estimates more than 820,000 jobs would be created nationwide if utilities were required to buy 20 percent of their electricity from suppliers of renewable resources.

But although state law is very favorable to renewable energy development, Brooks said renewing federal investment tax credits — which pay for 30 percent of new solar systems — is important to keeping the industry growing.

He said he’s hopeful Congress will renew the tax credits, set to expire at the end of the year, when it returns to session, but that “without strong federal leadership, it’s difficult.”

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