When I got into solar, I was like, if the sun provides all of this endless limitless free energy, why isn’t it more accessible to individuals that can’t afford their bills? I know what it’s like when you can’t afford your electric bill, being in the dark and eating in the dark. I just knew that something needed to be done, I knew that it should be more accessible to those that really could benefit from it.
Then a friend of mine told me about this two week class on solar energy. I mean, I had seen a solar panel, but I had paid no attention to it, didn’t know what it was about or how it worked or anything like that. I call it my re-introduction to the sun. Cause I was like, “What? The sun does all this? And what? It’s free energy!” I was just taken aback. I was slightly embarrassed, but intrigued. I wanted to know more. I probably got on their nerves because I kept asking questions.
My first job, I was under-dressed to say the least, in the middle of a pig farm, trying to pour concrete, three hours outside of Minneapolis. But I didn’t even mind the cold cause I was trying to take everything all in.
Some jobs you have these 110 pound glass objects on a slanted roof and you’re up in the air, you got all these things connected in, and you’re trying to get things lined up and you’re squeezing in hard to get to spots. I loved it. I just kept showing up, man. It was something that you felt good about doing, helping the environment and building something, you’re part of something that’s new.
When I take the kids on a field trip to a solar company, I introduce them to everyone from the receptionist to the accountant, to the electrician, to the electrical engineer, to the warehouse guys, to the owners, to the president. I introduce them to everyone because everyone plays a part in making it successful. Not every kid is going to want to get up and, you know, be tinkering around at 40 feet in the air. It’s whatever you’re into within the solar infrastructure. There’s a place for you.
There’s a camp that I have that I started, a youth outreach program, it’s called Just B Solar. I wanted my kids to find out about what the sun can provide before they’re 30. It started with my nieces and nephews. We did like solar cooking and stuff like that. With kids, you know, their imagination is just wonderful.
I was one of the lead installers for the first community solar garden in the city of Minneapolis. It was installed on top of the Shiloh temple, which is on the corner of Fremont and Broadway. I was not only part of it on the teaching side and the outreach side, but helped build it and install it and design it. It was just totally feel-good work. I was also a member and a subscriber. The wonderful thing about that is that it’s generational wealth in a sense. I put my membership in my kid’s name.
Each one of those companies has given me the opportunity to provide for my family and also learn as well. But if the attitudes of the individuals that own some of these solar companies were as clean as the energy in solar I think the industry would be a lot more vibrant and thriving. For example, you got guys sitting out there working overtime and guys not seeing their families, they’re working in below-zero temperatures to build this, to make sure that deadlines are met and then they are not even invited to the ribbon cutting.
So I’m working on creating an employee owned co-op, a solar installation company where I have my vote and my voice matters. A solar worker co-op is the perfect solution, to feel like you are part of something bigger, rather than feeling like you could be easily replaced. Instead of complaining about it, we decided to do something about it.
No corporation owns the sun, no one nation, race, gender, whatever. That’s our sun, that’s everyone’s sun. And it generates the very thing that we need to survive. We know ways to make this more accessible and make it affordable and actually make it to where everyone can partake in it.
-Keith Dent, 2021
Keith Dent is the founder of Just B Solar and has extensive experience in the solar industry.
He lives in Minneapolis with his family.