Stories from a Green New Deal: Bob

Bob's Story

When you look at the statistics, Minnesota is like number 1 or number 2 in the disparity between black and white around wealth, and when you look at other communities, like mine, Native American, it just gets worse. I believe that we can do better and we have to do better. I say to all tribal nations, you know, that we are in the gaming business, that’s a billion dollar business that has been very helpful to our communities, but we need to be in the energy business. The energy business is a trillion dollar industry.

Solar Bear is a solar installation company located in Minneapolis and we are licensed in the state of Minnesota. We were formed out of the Just Solar Coalition because we wanted to be able to show that minority companies can develop here in the state of Minnesota. We know what we want, we know what we need, and we know where we have to go. We know how to organize and push our communities.

Right now, We’ve (Solar Bear) mostly been focusing on Red Lake. I’ve just been bombarded with requests to put up solar. That’s a good problem to have actually when you’re a new company. The long-term goal here is that we create our own tribal utility. Instead of sending $40 million off the reservation, what does it look like to put $20 million back into a community that has a medium income of $8-10,000 a year? $20 million can go a long way in a community like that. That’s really what I’m trying to do.

I think that the way renewable energy is catching on in these communities could be that kind of jumping off point for a great collaboration to happen between the state and these tribes. The whole situation with Line 3 and everything that is happening up there right now and the not abiding by treaties that were struck between the government and the tribes in this state, it just can’t be who we are. We have to be better.

We are finishing up the training center right now. Exactly right now, today. I was telling one of the kids that works on our crew, he’s 19 years old and he told me that he wants to do this for the rest of his life. I told him, well how about in the next couple of years you start looking into becoming an electrician, and after an electrician you could become an electrical engineer, and after an electrical engineer you can become a solar developer. And he was like, “Wow, it would be so cool to follow that trajectory”. So this industry is a little different in some regards because it has that cool process that you can grow with the job, grow with the career like that.

Before I saw Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth I knew there was something wrong and I just couldn’t put my finger on it. You know instinctively as a human being that there is something wrong with your Mother, when we’re spilling millions of gallons of oil on a bunch of seals, but I felt powerless. Later I got to sit down with that director and I told him, “You changed my life, dude, with your movie”. It really made me start thinking about this and planting the seeds.

And then my brother passed away and I became the surrogate Father for my nephews and nieces, and this unconditional love came over me that I wanted to do something tangible. I just thought “Why don’t I fix the climate problem for you?” Not knowing that it’s a very big problem. But I can relate to that young woman from Sweden, Greta, because I felt the same way. Like if nobody is going to do something about it, I might as well do something about it. You don’t know what you are going to do, you just go out and do it.

The world is sick right now and solar and renewable energy is the medicine. Let’s heal our planet and then at the same time, let’s heal ourselves. Because when the world is off like this, it really affects us emotionally. It makes us act out in ways that we wouldn’t be acting out. You can see it all around us.

You’re talking to probably one of the most optimistic guys in the world, but even I get frustrated with our politicians, our Republican and Corporate Democrats. The whole situation with Line 3 and everything that is happening up there right now and the not abiding by treaties that were struck between the government and the tribes in this state, it just can’t be who we are. We voters need to vote in the right people in order to make policy decisions. And I would like to see these foundations and these governments supporting organizations that are really doing the heavy work. There are some wonderful leaders, man, wonderful people that I have seen doing this work and they do it because they love it and because it is the right thing.

It’s all I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I will go to my grave fighting for this planet.

Let’s be leaders in renewable energy and let’s close the wealth gap.

Bob Blake is the Founder and CEO of Solar Bear, a solar installation company in Minneapolis, MN

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