The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) is being awarded the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Mission Innovation Award in October.
“(We’re) very honored, very honored. The nonprofit sector in the state of Minnesota is very robust and there are hundreds of amazing, worthy nonprofit organizations. To be selected from such an incredible pool of amazing organizations is really an honor, and we’re very humbled,” said founding director Jason Edens.
Edens said the business was likely chosen from this robust pool because of its earliest innovations, namely, RREAL’s dedication to bringing renewable sources of energy to low-income individuals.
“I do believe our work and our mission is very unique and very innovative. There really are no other organizations throughout the nation that are delivering solar heat to low-income families as a long-term clean and domestic solution to fuel poverty,” Edens said. “It truly is not only innovative in the state of Minnesota, but it truly is nationally innovative.”
RREAL began business in 2000 when a group of volunteers gathered together to assemble solar heating panels for low-income homes. At the time the business’ goal was not being supported by state aid.
“When we first did so, we didn’t get any traction at all. What we decided to do was rather than advocate for the inclusion of solar heat in the energy assistance program, we just started to do it. We just started to deliver solar heat to low-income families,” Edens said.
Over time, state energy assistance programs began to see the value in RREAL’s business model. Soon, Minnesota residents on fuel assistance were becoming eligible for assistance in the purchase and installation of solar heating units. This collaboration is now nationally being called the “Minnesota Model.” Other states are looking to RREAL and Minnesota, as an example.
In 2006 the company, built of volunteers, began to assemble a paid staff, then went on hiatus to develop its own solar heating panels, and began manufacturing in late 2007. Today, RREAL has four programs.
• The solar assistance program to give solar heat to low-income families on public energy assistance.
• The outreach and education program partnering with schools and technical colleges to provide work force training in solar technology.
• The market rate solar design/build program for designing and building solar energy systems for homeowners, business owners and utilities.
• The manufacturing/distribution program operating from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore.
In addition, RREAL has begun to expand its research and products to include solar electricity panels and high tunnel research to expand Minnesota’s growing season up to 180 days a year in a high tunnel environment. RREAL’s heating panels are being implemented in the state’s turkey farming industry, which is the biggest in the nation.
The company, which began with the hopes of leading by example, is now being recognized. Edens still hopes that RREAL will only be one of many businesses to focus on renewable energy and low-income groups.
“I would predict, in the next five to 10 years, weatherization programs across the nation will use solar heat wherever it’s an effective technology,” Edens said. “We don’t mean to suggest that solar is some sort of silver bullet, but it’s definitely part of the golden buck shot.”
This will not be RREAL’s first award. The organization has been recognized in the past with the Social Entrepreneurs Cup, the Initiative Foundation Green Venture Award and the Minnesota Governor’s Pollution Reduction Award.
This newest award will be presented to the business Oct. 25 in Duluth.
Other Minnesota Nonprofit Awards are given for Anti-Racism Initiative, Advocacy, Responsive Philanthropy, and Excellence.