Virginia’s next mission: clean energy

Joe Sanchez is a 23-year U.S. Army veteran and co-owner of a Leesburg-based solar company.

Joe Sanchez is a 23-year U.S. Army veteran and co-owner of a Leesburg-based solar company. (Photo courtesy of Augustin N. Cruz)

Published July 31, 2015

By Alice Tong

Meet Joe Sanchez. Joe served in the United States Army for 23 years. After he retired as a lieutenant colonel, Joe was looking for his next mission. He found it in the clean energy sector as a co-owner of SOLARFOUR LLC, a solar installation company in Leesburg.

I have seen peoples’ lives forever changed in the fight for foreign and fossil fuel,” Joe said at a recent E2 event in Virginia that focused on the growing job opportunities in clean energy for veterans. “Building the clean energy economy is one of the most honorable things we can do right now – that’s why I see it as the next mission.”

Meet Minh Le. Minh heads the Solar Technologies office at the U.S. Department of Energy. He helped launch the Solar Ready Vets program to connect skilled veterans to the solar energy industry, training them as installers, sales representatives, system inspectors, and other solar-related occupations. One of the training sites for the veterans is located at Naval Station Norfolk.

“For me, this mission is personal,” Minh said at the E2 event. “My family and I left Vietnam during the war with the assistance of the U.S. military and now it’s an honor to help find jobs for our best and brightest – our returning veterans.”

Why is clean energy our next mission here in Virginia? And how will the federal Clean Power Plan help Virginia achieve that mission?

The federal Clean Power Plan will reduce carbon emissions by about 30 percent. A strong Virginia plan that emphasizes energy efficiency and renewable energy like solar and wind will not just reduce carbon pollution but will send a clear market signal to the private sector to invest in the clean energy economy.

And Virginia’s 780,000-plus veteran workforce will be ready to join this industry. They are disciplined, motivated, and technologically savvy. They can transition easily to this economy.

According to E2, Virginia ranked No. 7 in the nation in clean energy and clean transportation job announcements in the first three months of 2015. This is the first time the Commonwealth has cracked the top 10 states since E2 started tracking clean energy jobs in 2011.

In contrast, our neighbors to the north and south make frequent appearances in the top 10. Thanks to a booming solar energy sector, North Carolina has cracked E2’s top 10 six times, while Maryland has made the list four times including the latest quarter.

Unlike Virginia, both Maryland and North Carolina have renewable energy standards and other smart policies that encourage growth in solar, wind and energy efficiency.

Even so, Virginia since 2012 has seen a whopping 157-percent increase in solar jobs.

But that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the potential for solar, wind and energy efficiency jobs we could create in Virginia with strong implementation of the Clean Power Plan.

That’s good for our economy and good for our environment. It’s also a good way to keep our best and brightest – our veterans – in our communities.

Folks like Joe are already helping shape Virginia’s new economy. Compliance with the Clean Power Plan will create many more Joes in the years ahead.

Alice Tong is E2’s Eastern States Advocate. She lives in Alexandria and can be reached at