Robert Chatham

YouthBuild Louisville brings solar energy to a historic neighborhood.

Louisville’s historic Smoketown neighborhood, a name that is said to come from the large number of smoke-producing kilns in the area during its early brick-making days in the 1820s, will soon host a sustainable source of renewable energy production.

Smoketown is already home to Sheppard Square HOPE VI Revitalization, one of Kentucky’s three registered LEED Neighborhoods, and winner of the 2014 USGBC and Bank of America Affordable Green Neighborhood grant. Adjacent to Sheppard Square is YouthBuild Louisville, a full-time program that helps low-income youth, ages 18–24, earn their high school diplomas or GEDs while getting hands-on training and work experience in the construction trades, urban conservation corps, professional medical careers or culinary field. 

In 2012, YouthBuild Louisville committed to developing a Green Campus, the goal of which is to provide a sustainable living laboratory and incubator to improve the personal, social and economic health of the city’s young adults, neighbors and community. 

To deepen their commitment as a Green Campus, YouthBuild Louisville will soon install an 8.68 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) system on top of an outdoor cedar wood workshop located in the center of the campus. The solar PV system will provide a host of benefits, including:

  • Renewable energy to the workshop
  • Training opportunities for YouthBuild Louisville students, Smoketown residents and others seeking workforce development pathways in the installation, operations and maintenance of solar systems

Similar solar projects have been implemented through YouthBuild USA’s Green Initiative at YouthBuilds in Philadelphia; South Yuba, California; Fresno, California; and Austin.

Youthbuild Cedar Workshop solar panels.

YouthBuild Louisville is being assisted by staff associate Ross Pusateri, who prepared the Solar Feasibility Study, and USGBC Kentucky MLAB member Robert Chatham of Chatham Energy Consulting, LLC. Chatham has volunteered to assist YouthBuild Louisville in developing and funding this project by reaching out to local USGBC members, local solar installers and fellow Rotarians. YouthBuild Louisville will be responsible for hiring contractors, installing solar panels, training students in solar installation and project management associated with creating a collaborative venture on YouthBuild property. 

“We view the ‘Solar Over Smoketown’ initiative as an immense opportunity to develop public-private partnerships for a centrally located training facility that will be well supported and ahead of the curve for our clean energy local economy. Anticipating career pathways for our students and alumni, neighbors and broader community, I expect this cooperative venture will reap great rewards,” said Lynn Rippy, Executive Director of Youthbuild Louisville.

The benefits of adding solar to Smoketown include improving air quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, developing a more sustainable diversified energy supply and boosting the local economy through new job creation and local solar installation companies. 

The YouthBuild Louisville Green Campus will also be a showcase for other organizations interested in implementing similar energy efficiency and renewable projects. The solar PV system will provide educational opportunities for local organizations and private residents about the benefits of solar energy. It is anticipated that the site will also be utilized by YouthBuild Louisville associates and private companies as a training center for workers to learn solar installation, operation and maintenance. This is a benefit not only to the energy security and sustainability of the state and region, but also to the PV installers hoping to grow their businesses. In addition, with respect to YouthBuild Louisville, it will be an invaluable resource for Louisville youth seeking employment with a definite and meaningful future.

“If we can adequately prepare for the inevitable clean energy opportunities and provide the training and access to good jobs for people who truly need them―while reducing pollution and improving our quality of life―this will be  a win-win for our city,” noted Youthbuild Louisville Project Manager Robin Burke.