Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues
As PennFuture celebrated its 7th Annual Pittsburgh Solar Tour, which was held Oct. 14, I had the opportunity to speak with one of our long-time donors who has supported the event for several years – Joe Morinville of Energy independent Solutions (EIS Solar).
Joe is originally from Minnesota and came to Pittsburgh when he met and married a local lady! While he originally missed his hometown, he told me, “Now you couldn’t drag me out of here. I love Pittsburgh.”
I asked him why he started his business and what made him interested in renewable energy. Joe said there were two main events that turned him on to all things solar and renewable. The first was when he was a high school student back in Minnesota. His dad was interested in solar and Joe found himself taking a solar training course. He thought it was the coolest technology and really liked how it worked.
But in the early 2000’s, the second event happened that really strengthened Joe’s resolve. He and his wife were looking for some property to build a home in the Pittsburgh area and thought they had found the perfect place. But Joe noticed that the ponds on the beautiful property looked strange and sadly, he found out that the ponds were heavily contaminated. Doing some more research, Joe learned that the property had been owned by a coal company that had strip mined it and then went bankrupt. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had been brought in to do a cleanup not once, but three times. Joe and his wife decided not to build their home there. Even today, Joe told me, the land is still vacant and unusable because of its legacy with chemical waste that remains in the water and surrounding ground.
All of that led Joe to really think about the impact and legacy of coal. It was not cheap, he thought. The cleanup costs and health impacts were enormous.
He then became involved in Oil Free Farms (O.F.F.), a nonprofit, before starting EIS in 2008. He had been in financial services for 11 years but was very interested in farming. He always liked agriculture and that combined with clean energy led him to the idea of farmers growing their own energy! He wanted to help farmers become more energy efficient and he began working with a team of folks on biomass projects.
One evening, he and his team were in a discussion group and a large general contractor came in and asked Joe’s group to do an audit of their building. It turned out that the Massaro group wanted solar on their building, but as Joe said, at the time, he was not certified to do that. Rising to the challenge, Joe changed direction. He went from nonprofit to for-profit, got himself certified to do solar work, and EIS Solar was born! He’s never looked back.
One of the projects he is very proud of—he calls it the quintessential project for EIS Solar – was at Phipps Conservatory. At the time, EIS Solar was small and many believed he and his team didn’t have the capacity to complete the job. Joe would go to events and people would come up to him and say “If you and your team can finish at Phipps…” and he would always respond, “We don’t fail.” But Joe knew they had to prove themselves, and they did. They have also worked on Phase 2 and Phase 3 at Phipps Conservatory’s Living Building.
EIS Solar has completed work on five Living Building projects. Those types of buildings are harder to do than regular LEED buildings in terms of code compliance because the building has to create all of its own energy and clean its own water.
Joe says what makes his renewable work so gratifying is: “our people.” EIS Solar has assembled a team of phenomenal individuals – local to Pittsburgh – whose quality and workmanship is fantastic. His team, he said with pride, is the secret to their success.
From a clean energy perspective, Joe reminded me, you never accomplish all of your goals, but EIS Solar is where they want to be at this point in time.
When I asked him about what he hoped for the future of clean energy, Joe said, “EIS Solar is always pursuing the cutting edge of things and we make sure we can build the most beautiful functional projects.” But he noted Harrisburg is all about policy – and all the policy and all the technology in the world do not make clean energy – you have to actually build it!
Joe, thank you and your team for your clean energy leadership and your support! We’re glad you are standing with us.