It’s amazing how many friends and family members want to chat ... after you spend some quality time with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
“I had 400 e-mails waiting for me, and dozens of voicemails,” laughed Blake Jones, president of Namasté Solar in Boulder, Colorado. The White House chose Jones and his company to represent the new green economy when Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill in Denver Tuesday.
TV news showed Obama, Biden, and Jones on the roof of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where Namasté installed solar panels about a year ago. “The sun was shining, the system was cranking out electricity, but it was definitely windy. I thought it was fitting that it showed the abundant renewable resources in the state,” Jones told MNN afterwards.
Jones isn’t sure exactly how he got chosen to introduce the president at the signing ceremony. He does know the energy business from many angles. As a civil engineer he worked in the oil industry for Halliburton/Brown & Root in Egypt. He then changed gears dramatically, spending three years developing clean water systems and renewable energy sources in Nepal.
Namasté, (a Sanskrit greeting of great respect) has 55 employees. But like thousands of other companies the economic collapse hit them hard. After years of expansion, in the past couple of months layoffs seemed likely. Jones expects the stimulus plan will help his company almost immediately. And being a key part of the bill-signing event? “Quite humbling,” he said. “When I look back on it, it’s kind of a blur — but very fun, intense and exciting.”
About a week ago he started getting calls from Colorado congressional offices, and then the White House advance team. They quizzed him about his company, how the economic downturn had hit them, and what would help most from federal legislation. Jones said it felt like the ultimate job interview, but with a little intrigue thrown in. “I couldn’t even tell close family members what was happening until the night before,” he said.
After the complicated preliminaries of the Secret Service sweeps, the explosive sniffing dogs, and all the agents with sunglasses and earpieces, (“Just like in the movies!”) Jones said, it was showtime.
He spent about 10 minutes talking just to the president and vice president about the topic he is most passionate about, clean energy. “The president asked about the cost of solar versus other energy sources, and that took our conversation from how it works to global trends, and different countries where they are in developing these industries.”
“They asked where most of the solar panels are manufactured, and I told them the majority are manufactured in Germany, Japan, or China, not the United States. Then they asked, ‘What do we need to do to change that?’” I hope the stimulus bill is the first positive step in that direction,” said Jones.
Namasté Solar was able to grow partly because of a state stimulus measure, a 2004 Colorado law called an RPS, a renewable portfolio standard. It requires electricity providers obtain a minimum percentage of their power from renewable sources by a certain date. Jones said it led to the creation of more than 150 solar and wind companies.
While he readily admits that the devil is in the details, Jones and the Solar Energy Industries Association said a cursory reading of the stimulus bill showed 19 provisions that will affect solar companies. “It gave us tremendous optimism, it should allow lots of projects that are now on hold to move forward in months if not just weeks,” said Jones. “And for us, to not just scrap layoff plans, but to actually start hiring again.”