KENOSHA ⏤ Carthage College junior Sophie Shulman’s journey into advocating for green energy and solar panels started with a thought: Why doesn’t Carthage have a wind turbine?
Now, Shulman, a music and marketing major, has launched a project with solar panel company All Energy Solar to increase local panels.
Shulman is currently working with the company with her colleagues in Blackbird Gen, a green advocacy group.
Blackbird Gen focuses on expanding knowledge of green energy, while also offering opportunities for residents to make the switch.
Its partner All Energy Solar began life as a company in 2009. All Energy Solar promises “clean, green, solar energy solutions for residential, commercial, agricultural, and government clients,” on its website.
“All Energy Solar is one of the few full service solar energy companies that is licensed as a building contractor as well as an electrical contractor,” it also states.
And currently, through Nov. 30, Blackbird Gen and All Energy Solar have a group buy event happening. In essence, the more people that make the switch, the greater rebates everyone gets on their panels, Shulman explained.
“It’s basically just this big project to promote awareness and educate the community on the benefits of green energy ⏤ with the added bonus of making it more affordable along the way,” Shulman said.
Listen to our full interview directly below.
Shulman talks green passion, efforts
Shulman’s involvement in green energy initiatives started with something she noticed on her campus.
She and other students she’d come to work with noticed how windy the campus is. From there, they followed the logical next step from a green energy perspective: How do we harness that?
As a result, the group succeeded in getting a wind turbine placed on the campus to harness the energy of its location.
“We started a sustainability task force on campus,” Shulman said. “We got a wind turbine. You know, just a lot of on-campus stuff. We thought, ‘You know, why stop there? Maybe we can go out in our community and apply some of the stuff we’ve been learning here to try to benefit the community.’”
Wants to help Kenosha community be more sustainable
In partnering with All Energy Solar, Blackbird Gen will be hosting a series of one-hour webinars, and one in-person event on Oct. 13 at Kenosha Brewing Co. to educate those interested on solar panels.
The current webinar dates to receive more information on the Kenosha area group buy are:
- Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.;
- Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.;
- Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.;
- Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.;
- And Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Going green easier than you think
For those who think the process of getting solar panels may be daunting, Shulman also assures that the company does pretty much all of the heavy lifting.
“All Energy Solar, which is the company we’re working with right now, they do a completely free site assessment of your home,” she said. “And they give you a rundown of what your savings, what your costs, what the environmental impact would look like over 20 years, if you got the solar panels.
“They do all of that for you for free, before you even say you want to buy the things.”
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Gurnee native helping new community
Shulman, a native of Gurnee, Ill., wants to improve the sustainability of the community that has grown on her.
“I mean, Kenosha, above anything, I just love the people here. I think the community here is really great, really solid group of people who just want to help each other.
“It’s grown on me a lot since being here.”
There’s plenty more to learn from the Observer’s conversation with Shulman.
You can hear more of her thoughts on green energy and the group buy by listening to our full interview embedded near the top of this article. Or you can read a written transcript of our conversation directly below.
Sophie Shulman interview transcript Observer (O): We’ll kind of start at the beginning, cause it’s been a while since we talked about it. So let’s start with the very basics: the what ⏤ yeah, let’s start there. Shulman (S): What it is, is we are a bunch of Carthage students, and we wanted to do some standalone projects. We wanted to try and make our campus more sustainable, and you know, in a way, we’ve been working towards that a lot. We started a sustainability task force on campus. We got a wind turbine. You know, just a lot of on-campus stuff. We thought, you know, why stop there. Maybe we can go out in our community and apply some of the stuff we’ve been learning here to try to benefit the community. So we started exploring around, and we got in touch with a solar panel company. And we basically started doing advocacy projects for them and telling the community about them and the benefits of putting solar panels on their houses. And what the company can do for them kind of things. And they noticed our efforts and liked it enough that they said, “Let’s start a group buy,' which is basically we’re doing the same thing. We’re advocating for the company, but the more people buy into it, the greater and greater rebates everybody in the program gets on all of their solar panels. So, it’s basically just this big project to promote awareness and educate the community on the benefits of green energy, with the added bonus of making it more affordable along the way. O: What are the things that you’ve seen when going out and kind of thinking about sustainability and applying the concept to even just the Kenosha community? S: Yeah, I mean, when we first started this, really what got us thinking about sustainability at all was, "Man, our campus is so windy. It would sure be awesome if we got a wind turbine to harness all this wind energy." And then you think, "Wait a minute, we also have a sun, and it rises every single day. That’s so crazy, and we can harness that energy too," kind of stuff. And it’s obviously less commercialized in the Midwest. It’s obviously more sunny, you know, on the other side of the country. But it’s also incredible how viable most homes are for solar energy. And there are long-term financial and environmental benefits. It just feels like … it’s like promoting something without knowing what it is. People know that green energy is good. They know that climate change is bad. But I mean, where’s the connection between what it is and what it actually does? O: So we talked about solar panels. I guess, most people think about, anytime you say green energy or solar or anything like that, I think people freak out a little bit, because they’re like, ‘That sounds complex,’ because of words we use. In your mind, what are just some simple steps people can take? I mean, is it really that complicated? S: Yeah, and that’s the great part about it, is it really isn’t. It’s incredible how much of the work falls on these companies and what they’ll do for you. All Energy Solar, which is the company we’re working with right now, they do a completely free site assessment of your home. And they give you a rundown of what your savings, what your costs, what the environmental impact would look like over 20 years, if you got the solar panels. They do all of that for you for free. Before you even say you want to buy the things. And then they also go out, and they find all of the financial aid for you and they apply for it. All of the federal incentives and the state government incentives, they find all of that. They apply that to the solar panels. And they upkeep the maintenance. And they let you lease the panels so you’re paying it monthly rather than forking up a ton of money for the system right off the bat. So it’s really a much simpler process than it seems. And a lot of these companies, they really do want to help you and they want to make sure that it’s actually beneficial to you. They won’t lie to you if it’s not. Not everybody can go solar. But a lot more people can than they think. So it is a bit simpler of a process when you take that first leap. And then, after that, you’re free to commit to whatever you want to commit to. O: And now, with the group buy, let’s say people were interested in it or anything like that or wanted to even find out more about it, how do they do that? S: So All Energy Solar and ourselves are hosting webinars that we call “Solar Sessions” throughout the course of the group buy. Which is ending on November 30th. They can go to these. They’re all one-hour long maximum. And it explains everything that I’m saying in much more detailed and much more technical terms. You know, because it’s educational and it’s much more helpful in that sense. Like what you were saying, how does solar energy even work? They explain all of that. And it’s very informative; it’s very helpful. They even explain benefits that you wouldn't think ⏤ like having your own electricity that’s produced by you rather than an electricity distributor kind of stuff. So we’re holding those throughout the course of the group buy. Those are both on All Energy Solar’s website and on our website, and people can sign up for those as they please. We actually just recently set up an in-person date at the Kenosha Brewing Co. So they’re there and they’re willing and they’re going to co-host, put on a powerpoint slide and we’ll get to show everybody solar while drinking beer. It’s going to be really fun. O: And is it exciting for you to finally be able to ⏤ well, I guess I don’t know if you’ve kind of been talking to people publicly throughout the process ⏤ but is it exciting to be able to have those types of events? S: Yes, it’s extremely exciting because solar panels are a hard sell. They’re not a pair of shoes. So, the fact that you do have people ⏤ I mean, most people are excited about green energy. You tell people you’re doing green energy stuff, and they’re like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” But I think for most people, it stops being a concept once you step out of the room and you go back to the pressing day-to-day matters, you know. So when you do come across somebody, especially a big company and they say, “Oh yeah, this is awesome,” like we want to promote this too and we want to get this out there too, that’s really exciting. So we’re glad, at the very least, we’re making an impact that way at the moment. O: Yes, and just a question or two about you. So what year are you in here? S: I’m a junior. O: A junior. Are you from Kenosha? S: No, I’m not. I’m from Gurnee, Illinois. O: Okay. S: But you know, Kenosha has grown on me so much. I’m actually at Carthage because my role model in high school, who’s my guitar teacher ⏤ I’m here as a music and marketing major ⏤ he kind of pushed me to this campus. I mean, Kenosha, above anything, I just love the people here. I think the community here is really great, really solid group of people who just want to help each other. It’s grown on me a lot since being here. I stayed here the whole year. Because I was actually working on campus this summer making energy dashboards for the college ⏤ I know, I’ve really become encompassed in it. O: But it seems like you’re passionate about it, so that’s good. S: Yeah, and I mean, passion comes with people. It really does. I’ve explored a lot of different topics and places and things like that in my life. And sometimes it’s really like, when you find the right people, anything you do is amazing. And that’s what I’ve found taking this sustainability route. Just everything that comes with the environmental and personal benefits is really just icing on the cake. So yeah, I’d say I’m passionate about it. O: I would say so, yes. And then just one last question. It’s just, you know, it started with a thought of wind turbines and now in October you get to have this presentation, what is the next kind of step or the next kind of milestone ⏤ let’s say ⏤ in this process that you’re looking for. S: More than anything, we want to see this program succeed. And we want to see that real, tangible impact happen. We want people to get these solar panels and be excited about it too. That’s super important as well. And then I think going beyond that, our next next thoughts are that green energy, when you think of it as a marketplace, isn’t a huge, I guess, brand. When you think phones, you think Apple and Samsung and things like that. But what do you think of when you think solar energy? There’s really not a name that comes to mind. Like, where is there a brand, something you can trust, something where it’s not just some abstract concept that everyone knows about, but do you really know about it, kind of thing. So I think our mission for the future is to become a facilitator of awareness and understanding of green energy. I know that sounds super vague. But it’s basically, you know, we want green energy to have a more commercialized presence, a residential presence. An online presence would be huge. And we want to apply us as college students, a younger generation that look at this stuff in a new light and has grown up with it, more so than earlier generations. I think there’s’ something that can be applied there to making it a more well-known or understood concept and market, really. So, basically, we’re going to try to do SEO. O: I love that that’s how you summed it up.
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