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Red Bird Mission Adds Solar

The nonprofit is installing solar panels to save on their energy bills

man stands roof near solar panels with trees in background

Sylvester Nolan of Red Bird Mission stands near newly installed solar panels. Photo courtesy of Mountain Association


News release from the Mountain Association

Red Bird Mission, a nonprofit organization located at the confluence of the Clay, Bell and Leslie County lines in Eastern Kentucky, recently installed 32 solar panels that will save them thousands on their utility bills.

The organization hosts a pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade accredited school, clinic, community store, craft program, dorms, affordable housing, cabins for volunteers and a variety of other services critical to the community. With electricity costs rising in all 65 buildings on their campus, Red Bird knew they had to do something. In 2017, they called the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED), now known as Mountain Association, for recommendations.

Since then, the Mountain Association has worked with them to complete several energy savings projects, and now estimates they are saving $42,000 a year. Because of the upgrades they made, their overall heating bill in the winter of 2019 dropped by $22,427 from the winter before.

“We are so grateful for all of the opportunities offered that led to a significant reduction of our energy costs, and provided key training opportunities for our staff and the community,” said Red Bird Mission Executive Director Kari Collins. “This has allowed us to move even further toward realizing the vision of creating and maintaining a healthy and sustainable community in and around the Red Bird valley.”

Red Bird Mission is on track to save even more as they continue to upgrade all their buildings, and now that their solar project is completed. The solar project alone will save them another estimated $6,000 a year.

Red Bird worked with the Mountain Association to design an energy internship for Cecil Hall, one of their longtime staff members. Hall is currently being trained in HVAC systems, lighting, sealing, crawl space encapsulation and solar. He will primarily complete the energy work at Red Bird.

To provide further support for these energy projects, the Mountain Association connected Red Bird Mission with the Left Coast Fund, which offers grants to nonprofits through their Solar Moonshot Program. The organization granted Red Bird Mission $25,000 to pay for the solar installation.

Man wearing face mask holds circuit board

Fuzz Johnson works on the electrical components of the Red Bird Mission solar installation. Photo courtesy of H.O.M.E.S., Inc.


“It’s exciting to see Red Bird Mission, located in the heart of ‘coal country’ Kentucky, go solar and become clean energy champions,” said Tara Hammond, founder of Hammond Climate Solutions, who manages the Solar Moonshot Program on behalf of Left Coast Fund. “We’re thrilled to assist Red Bird Mission in showcasing how solar can reduce electric bills and mitigate impacts to the climate crisis while contributing to a healthier, more equitable future for all.”

The Mountain Association worked with staff at Red Bird to help with solar system design and review contractor proposals. In early July, Cecil Hall and Fuzz Johnson, an employee of nonprofit housing organization H.O.M.E.S. Inc., who is also being trained by the Mountain Association, finished the electrical work required to begin the installation. In late July, Wilderness Trace Solar, a company based in Danville, Kentucky, completed the installation.

After graduating from the internship program, Hall will be able to train other Red Bird Mission employees and volunteers to complete energy savings improvements without hiring outside labor. Red Bird Mission is planning to incorporate this training into an adult training programming where Hall can train other community members in these skills.

For more information on this project or the Mountain Association’s energy program, please contact Ariel Fugate, Communications Coordinator at (859) 302-3868 or ariel@mtassociation.org.

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