My Solar Story- Craig Ernst

Bright Beginnings (part 1 of 3) - Like many of us employed in the solar industry in Oregon my first job in solar began with John Patterson in 2007. I had spent the previous year obsessed with solar technology and as a hobby read about it every night. I remember showing up at Milwaukie High School for “Career Day” in 2006, with solar garden lights, claiming to be a solar specialist. The previous year, 2005, I presented as a video editor; but since that is not what I wanted to do with my life I chose to make something up: “fake it till you make it.” is a real thing.

By 2007 I was convinced, whether it made financial sense or not, that I would install solar on my house. I invited Mr. Sun Solar himself to come to my house and I immediately drank the koolaid. “I can heat my water with a system developed and manufactured right here in Oregon?” SOLD!!! But first.... I convinced John to pay me $200 to help install the system and thus I spent two days cleaning the ends of copper pipes and hauling equipment all over the place, my first job in solar. Brion Wickstrom was there, he showed up with long hair and a fully dialed, custom made truck- it was tremendous.

I had two professions at that time; the first being a professional leisurist and the second being a film & video editor working on projects for Nike, Red Bull, ESPN, Fox Sports, etc. Somehow, I was simply fascinated at the idea of adding a third job - solar then and still to this day is fascinating. Soon after the install was complete I called John to thank him and asked him if I could have a sales job slinging systems for him. John directed me to OSEIA, they were looking for a communications associate, noting "they could use someone with your positive energy."

I went to the OSEIA website and Lo and Behold the closing date for applications had passed and it stated very clearly, “No phone calls please.” So, logically and immediately, I called the phone number listed on the website and requested an interview. Two weeks later I showed up to what likely was my first formal job interview until that time, wearing a “Solar Energy Solutions” t-shirt that I had purchased from Andrew the previous month at a street fair. I did not expect Andrew to be interviewing me. I had no idea what to expect. I introduced myself to Jon Miller and Andrew Koyaanisqatsi, mentioned that it was nice to meet them and essentially asked them, "So when do I start?"

Two weeks after that, in May 2007, I was sitting in a meeting at the Energy Trust of Oregon with Jon Miller, Kacia Brockman and a few others planning the second NW Solar Expo which would take place in September 2007 and make a $5,000 profit >>> jackpot! Jon Miller and I spent the next 12 months raising money in a solar industry that was literally busting at the seams with a 50% state tax program for commercial systems on top of Energy Trust of Oregon incentives and federal tax credits. I remember Jigar Shah calling the office, it was truly something. At that time residential solar, especially solar thermal systems were very, very popular too. I maintained my video business and still managed to find plenty of time to be leisurely.

Jeff Bissonnette, our current Executive Director, pointed Jon in the direction of OSEIA in 2002 and it was during Jon Miller’s tenure that OSEIA really turned into an organized industry association. By 2008, Jon had been the executive director of OSEIA for over 5 years, and it had been clear that once OSEIA had the resources to pay someone a livable wage to lead the industry, Jon would move on. In early 2008, Jon moved to the private sector, and OSEIA was left with a huge bank account and a new executive director.

As many of you know, under going management changes can be challenging, especially in a small organization or company. In 2008, OSEIA experienced two changes of the executive director. The first transition went very smooth for OSEIA and me personally, but the second one did not go so well. Due to a colossal conflict of interest between our executive director at that time and myself regarding moral, ethical, personal and professional conduct I resigned from OSEIA in the fall of 2008. This experience was no less than heartbreaking and shattering to my world…… to be continued with part 2 of 3 “The Trail of Tears…”

My Solar StoryJeremy Ross