Nonprofit solar business preps for November opening

by Mick Rhodes |

The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged many businesses with ruthless efficiency since mid-March, causing some longstanding institutions to close up for good. But it has also left some reaping record profits, and still others poised for success when the economy finally lurches back into motion.

Count Claremont/Pomona Locally Grown Power (CPLGP) among the latter.

“Yeah, it’s pretty amazing right now,” said Devon Hartman, founder and executive director of Claremont based nonprofit Community Home Energy Retrofit Project (CHERP), and its offshoot, CPLGP.

“We feel very fortunate. Things seem to be going our way. Especially now with the conversation both at the state legislature and the federal government about how we can stimulate the economy the fastest and bring the most people back to work.

“We now have a shovel ready program that can be virally extended throughout the state immediately. So we feel like we’re in an extraordinarily good position to help put people back to work.”

Mr. Hartman and his team are set to launch of the world’s first nonprofit solar panel assembly facility this summer in Pomona.

Tooling and machinery will be arriving mid-June at the facility at the 1515 W. Mission Boulevard location. His crew will then assemble the machines and create the assembly line. The rest of the summer will be spent creating the first panels, which will be sent to Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for approval.

“We’re expecting to do our own internal testing and UL approval through September and start producing panels in the November time frame,” Mr. Hartman said.

The first panels produced will be installed on CPLGP’s facility.

“We’d like to take that entire building down to net zero” energy consumption, Mr. Harman said. “And then we’ll start putting panels on the lowest income households in the cities of Pomona and Claremont.”

The factory will create some 200 positions, and an additional 500 “indirect” jobs as result of the newfound buying power of those workers, Mr. Hartman said. Entry level workers will make between $15 and $20 per hour.

Hiring will begin in December, and if it all goes as planned, local residents will begin seeing CPLGP installers on rooftops in January.

The nonprofit’s phase I goal for each factory is to install its solar panels on 6,000 low-to-moderate income homes in Pomona and Claremont. The switch to solar is projected to save those residents a combined $6.5 million in energy costs yearly.

Once the Pomona facility is up and running, the plan is to duplicate the Pomona template nationwide. CPLGP is currently in discussions with California cities San Bernardino, Victorville, Compton and Fresno, and the territory of Puerto Rico, with a goal of having two more cities in process by the end of this year, and 10 more by the end of 2021.

“We’re going to inject factories into the heart of city centers that are the most hardest hit from an environmental and economic perspective, in California and beyond,” Mr. Hartman said. “The idea is to bring back all these middle class manufacturing jobs from overseas. That’s going to be the biggest lever that we can pull to reinvigorate local economies.”

Each worker at a CPLGP solar panel factory will also have an array of free workforce development tools available, with training designed to help them move on to higher paying jobs.

The training will include personal development skills such as managing themselves professionally, how engage with a team on the manufacturing floor, and how to take responsibility, Mr. Hartman said.

Also included will be occupational therapy training designed to help with life skills, such as nutrition, personal health, time management, and how to coordinate with support agencies in the community to help fix transportation, health, childcare and education issues.

“We’ll have counselors and there will be a certification process for every employee to not only have professional skills and certifications, but also certifications in some of these life skills,” Mr. Hartman said. “We also have places designed specifically for people with intellectual and physical disabilities, for veterans, we have a homeless track, and also at risk youth. So it’s very, very exciting to see that what we’ve created is going to be really, really necessary as we rebuild the economy.”

It’s an inspiring plan, and it’s coming along at an opportune moment. According to a recent 24/7 Wall Street study, 15.6 percent of Californians will be unemployed by July. More than 3.4 million Golden State residents have filed for unemployment benefits since March 15, and that number is increasing by the day.

“That’s probably the biggest point right now,” Mr. Hartman said. “It’s very rare to have an organization that is synergizing and focusing on so many of the major issues. Our focus is equally on massive carbon mitigation, local job creation, economic revitalization for our local communities, and of course our focus on environmental justice, because renewable energy has not been available to the lowest 60 percent of our population. So it’s kind of a wonderful suite of initiatives that combined, become more powerful.”

The nonprofit’s “trickle up” economic revitalization approach is by design. “This is how you stimulate a local economy, maximally and rapidly, which is you stimulate the people at the lowest income levels first, because they will go out and spend the money,” Mr. Hartman said. 

Proven macroeconomic theory indicates those at the lowest economic strata tend to spend freed up cash immediately, and in the local economy, he added.

CPLGP’s rollout plan offers a path forward for revitalizing the economies of hard-hit communities as it duplicates the template nationwide. And while it may on its face appear to be have a primarily progressive-leaning, blue state appeal, it is gaining increasingly bipartisan support.

“This is not a party line initiative,” he said. “Everybody across the spectrum, from liberal to libertarian. are starting to appreciate the importance of local control and local revitalization that’s necessary.”

It’s getting a lot of traction in Montana, for example, which leans libertarian. “But there’s a kind of attraction between the liberals the libertarians when it comes to gaining control over fundamental issues in our lives like utilities,” Mr. Harman said, “and being able to reduce the cost, the burden to our communities from things like water and energy.”

That big picture idealism fuels the nonprofit’s quest to jump start the economic engines of some of the country’s most neglected communities.

“We’ve gutted the middle class over the past 50 or 60 years because of multinational aggregation of profits at the top, and we’ve outsourced all of our technology, especially around solar, to Asia,” Mr. Hartman said. “And with that, all of the jobs.”

Bringing back middle class manufacturing jobs from overseas “is going to be the biggest lever that we can pull to reinvigorate local economies,” Mr. Hartman said.

Folks are noticing. CHERP had more than 280 people RSVP for last week’s Zoom meeting.

“It was very gratifying because we’ve really come this far because of this wide base of support from the whole inland region, and even leadership from around the state,” Mr. Hartman said. “We’re very grateful, but we really believe in that. We believe that we have to have strong and massive community engagement. We’ve got to get everybody on board here.”

For a quick overview, go to YouTube and search “CLGP Cherp Locally Grown Power.” For information on the Pomona Factory specifically, click on General info is at

CHERP is always looking for volunteers. Email for more information.


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