Ben Butcher and his wife live on a small farm on the outskirts of Backus, Minnesota, where they raised their four kids. He used to work as an automotive mechanic, which is where he got his first experience working with direct current — the kind of electricity that comes out of solar panels. These days, Butcher works with a lot more of it — kilowatts, in fact — as a solar installer. Like a growing number of people in the state, he makes his living directly from the sun.
Butcher works as the construction manager for Real Solar, a subsidiary of the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, a nonprofit that focuses on getting solar to low-income households. The organization employs 14 people, including between four to six solar installers, depending on the season and demand. Their crew might take three days to put in a 15-kilowatt solar array, or just a day to put in a 2-3 kilowatt system. These days its services are in higher demand than in the past, as the solar industry booms across the state, including rural areas like the one around Backus.
“When I first started,” Butcher said, “we were on the road about 70 percent of the time. But last year, it reversed. The local market has really developed, so we were on the road only about 30 percent of the time. We’re actually looking for another electrician at the moment. But solar electricians are in very high demand right now.”