Rosa Orenstein’s passion for renewable energy began with a horrific event: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the aftermath, Orenstein reflected on how dependence on fossil fuels was driving US involvement in the Middle -East, where the Americans wanted to protect their oil interests. .
“I started to think about: how to get out of this dependence on fossil fuels? Orenstein, a Dallas attorney, said. “Then I started to look around until I came to the conclusion that solar energy was the ultimate answer because it can be distributed to the smallest unit and to the largest unit. “
Much has changed since Orenstein began her journey to become president of the North Texas Renewable Energy Group, which formed in early 2001.
Solar power is becoming more popular year on year, with 46% of U.S. homeowners saying they have seriously thought about adding panels to their homes, according to a 2019 survey from the Pew Research Center. The Department of Labor predicts that wind turbine technicians will experience one of the fastest growth rates of any occupation between 2019 and 2029, followed by solar panel installers.
Orenstein, who has been involved with NTREG for 18 years, knows the organization must continue its core mission of helping interested residents explore their renewable options.
But she’s also set to lead the group to their next goal: educating underrepresented communities about clean energy and ensuring people of color and women benefit from the wave of renewable jobs expected in Texas.
“We need to expand and include the new technologies that are coming in, and include low and moderate income communities, people of color and underserved communities so that they too can be a part of this energy revolution,” said Orenstein. .
The COVID-19 pandemic has made achieving those milestones more difficult, Orenstein said. But the organization has made every effort to adapt, notably by transforming its annual DFW Solar Tour into a virtual format.
The event, which showcases homes and businesses using renewable energy and energy conservation technologies in unique ways, is scheduled for Saturday, October 2 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
While Zoom presentations may not replicate traveling North Texas to tour the solar facilities, attendees will still have an interactive experience through question-and-answer sessions with presenters from Dallas College, City of Cedar Hill. and area owners, according to Mark Witte, NTREG Chair event.
“We are excited about this year because the people taking part in the solar tour have done a really good job with their solar installations which are producing a lot of energy and saving a lot of money,” Witte said. “It’s good for others to hear this message from the people who have done it and to be able to talk about all the hardships and so forth associated with achieving it. “
For those less familiar with the specifics of energy efficiency or panel installation, organizers offer Solar 101 sessions to answer questions about purchasing, financing, and conserving energy on their properties. .
NTREG also helps members overcome barriers to adopting solar technology, including opposition from homeowners’ associations that restrict where panels can be installed – or whether they can be installed at all. Attitude changes towards renewables have started to hit HOAs and the lawyers who represent them, Orenstein said.
“It is recognized that sooner or later it will just be a question of where and how the facilities are installed and not whether they should be installed in a neighborhood,” said Orenstein. “I haven’t seen people stop because of the opposition to solar. I have seen people working to solve the challenge that awaits them, so that they can install their energy system.
Orenstein wants the growing opportunities to save money on energy through solar power and conservation to reach the communities that need it most. Before the pandemic, NTREG hosted mobile learning events where leaders visited community centers, including the Martin Luther King Center in South Dallas, to connect residents with information and resources on the ‘solar energy.
“I know having everything online is great, and we’re getting a lot of participation not just locally but even from overseas,” Orenstein said. “I regret that the coronavirus has not allowed us to reach other communities that we want to make sure we participate in this. “
While COVID-19 has ruled out these events for now, NTREG is taking further steps to bring under-represented groups into the fold.
As part of a partnership with the Texas Solar Energy Society, the organization is launching a diversity internship program that will pay students at least $ 15 an hour for 10 weeks of part-time work at a company. renewable energy.
Students from all walks of life are encouraged to apply, and the organization is particularly focused on recruiting from UT Arlington, Tarrant County College, Texas A&M University of Commerce and Dallas College, according to GreenSourceDFW. Orenstein hopes to fill six positions each for the fall and spring semesters, and provide a local mentor for each student.
These plans reflect NTREG’s growing mission and desire to take its educational events to the next level, Orenstein said. During the organization’s next decade of advocacy, she and Witte hope to see the group increase participation and provide a place for visitors to see how these energy systems work.
As technology improves and solar power becomes more affordable for the general public, North Texas will have an important role to play, Orenstein said.
“I think it’s about how best to manage the transition by recognizing that we live in this region which is one of the largest producers of oil and natural gas in the world,” Orenstein said. “But because of that, Texas is also one of the answers that can move the clean energy needle forward once that transition begins.”