SEI is headquartered in Paonia, Colorado. Unless you've been here, you may have never heard of this small town of 1,500 people on the Western Slope of Colorado. SEI has chosen our headquarters in this community of ranchers, coal miners, artists, retirees, hippies, and blue and white collar folks. Just down the street from SEI are many acres of organic cherries, apples, pears, and peaches. In fact, Delta County is the largest producer of organic fruit in Colorado. Within walking distance, you'll find farms growing vegetables and ranches of cattle and sheep. Less than ten miles away are three coal mines that once employed over 1,000 people and supplied over 1% of the nation's coal.
Paonia is a community in transition. Two of the coal mines have recently closed and gone are over 700 jobs. As you can imagine this has had a significant impact locally. As a community, we've had to reimagine our future.
Transforming communities and driving economic development is not new to SEI. In 1991, SEI was founded by Johnny Weiss and Ken Olson in Carbondale, another small western Colorado town. At that time there was virtually no PV in town. Johnny, Ken and the staff had a vision and the audacity to believe that renewable energy could change the world, and began working locally. Fast forward to today and solar PV is as ubiquitous in Carbondale as power lines.
As the coal mines began to close and our friends and neighbors began losing their jobs, we realized that we had to play a greater role in re-imagining our community's future. A few years ago, the only renewable energy systems you'd find in Paonia were at SEI and on the homes of staff and friends of SEI. Though rich in natural resources, Delta County is one of the poorest counties in Colorado. With the leadership of our Americorps VISTAs, we started Solarize Delta County. Our efforts have generated over $1.5 million in PV installations, jobs, and economic development locally. We've educated residences, businesses, farms, and ranches about solar PV and micro hydro.
Though we're pleased with the results of the steps that we've taken, there's something deeper and more profound at work. Our community has always been an energy-producing community and there's an awakening to the incredible potential to be 100% locally and renewably powered through solar PV, coal mine methane generation, and microhydro power from the water literally falling off of the mountains. How much more resilient would we be if our local rural electric cooperative did not have to annually export $42 million out of the community to purchase power from far-away power plants because we could produce our electricity locally?
We see this same kind of vision in the students who come to SEI. They come to Paonia with the same boldness that our founders had and the dream of using renewable energy in their homes, communities businesses, and countries. Though a lot has changed in the solar industry and at SEI, what hasn't changed is our commitment to empowering people through high quality, practical renewable energy training. We want to arm our students with the knowledge and experience to make their dreams a reality.
The journey of a world powered by renewable energy begins with a single step. Take your step. Donate today and help us do more good. We have a lot of work to do!