Over the course of its short 5 year life, SolUnesco has quickly become one of the leading solar developers in Virginia. The company has 13 projects in development with over 950 MW in capacity and is continuing to put projects into the pipeline. One of the key drivers of SolUnesco’s success has been its deep commitment to the communities in which it works. The founders, Francis Hodsoll and Jon Hillis, firmly believe that maximizing benefits in areas where SolUnesco is building projects leads to a win-win for everyone involved.
“Solar project development is more about building lasting relationships and less about construction,” said Hillis, SolUnesco’s President. “Developing a utility-scale solar project can take years. When we decide to build a project in a certain area, that means our company will be a part of the community for years to come as we work through all the steps from site acquisition to permitting to getting the project built. It’s important we get to know the community as we work towards sustainable, mutually-beneficial results. We spend a lot of time on community engagement and discussing needs with different stakeholders so we can really understand the places we are working in.”
This mindset of putting people first led SolUnesco to uncovering both a gap and an opportunity in the market. During its extensive consultations with community members, one of the recurring themes was the impact of solar development on local jobs. “We are always being asked ‘What will this project do for our economy?’ ‘Will this generate jobs?,’” continued Hillis. “In Virginia, it has been hard to answer these questions with a resounding YES as there is currently not a trained workforce to fill the jobs generated by utility-scale solar projects. That’s why many of the early solar jobs went to out-of-state companies and non-local workers. Francis [SolUnesco’s CEO] and I thought ‘We have to do something about this.’”
And do something they did. Francis and Jon started talking to other solar developers, installers, and stakeholders in Virginia who all echoed a similar sentiment regarding local talent and the pain points of workforce recruitment. Together, the organizations came up with a plan to address the gap: launching an immersive solar training program that would give Virginians both the technical know-how to access solar jobs as well as a support system for launching a solar career. Over the past year and a half, the organizations all worked together to develop a curriculum, build a hands-on learning lab, and mobilize over $1 million in funding. And thus SHINE was born.
“We are proud to be involved as a founding member. Putting communities and their interests first is a core value of our company. SHINE is a very unique workforce development program designed to create meaningful change in our home state,” said Hodsoll. “There is no other program like it. Not only does it maximize local jobs and economic benefits, but SHINE helps developers and construction firms gain access to qualified talent and increase solar project safety. There are a mix of public, private, and nonprofit organizations involved ensuring a wide variety of perspectives are incorporated into building solar career pathways for Virginians. We hope SHINE serves as a model for other states to replicate.”
Aside from its commitment to building a better solar workforce, SolUnesco also supports a number of charities across Virginia including the Boys & Girls Club of Greensville County, Locust Grove Middle School, and Seneca Ridge Middle School. The company’s Charitable Giving Program was created over a year ago to support important initiatives in need of funding and support.
It is rare to find a company with such a deep running commitment to people and communities. SHINE is proud to have SolUnesco’s support.
Founded in 2015 and based in Reston, Virginia, SolUnesco is a renewable energy project developer with local knowledge and local boots on the ground. Built around the values of trust, passion, creativity, community, and expertise, SolUnesco coordinates a diverse group of stakeholders including connecting rural landowners with new revenue opportunities through sustainable, cost-competitive energy generation and working with communities to ensure responsible project development. In addition to its solar development work, SolUnesco has an extensive Charitable Giving Program which supports local charities and initiatives.
The Solar Hands-On Instructional Network of Excellence (SHINE), is a public-private partnership dedicated to building innovative solar career pathways in Virginia. SHINE’s mission is to develop a qualified, diverse, equitable, and inclusive solar workforce, equip Virginians with the tools and knowledge to enter the solar sector with a competitive edge, help solar developers and construction companies source qualified and trained talent, and bridge the gap between solar jobs supply and solar jobs demand.