Longuisse Simón shifts his weight on the metal foldout chair, his head cocked to one side and hands clasped between his knees, his eyes narrowed in thought. In the light of the naked bulb above us, I can see the flecks of gray in his stubble. I can see how his skin has cooled since he put his tools down, that he’s changed his shirt after coming down from the roof. I can see that he is taking my questions seriously.
That I’m able to see these things, and my notebook, without the atmospheric flicker of a candle or kerosene lamp is a luxury that would have been unimaginable in this place just three years ago. Longuisse is Haitian, and some 7.3 million Haitians — more than seven out of every 10 people in this Caribbean nation a few hundred miles southeast of Miami — live without regular, reliable access to electricity.
Longuisse is also an electrician. He loves his trade. Every time he works with wires, he wants me to know, he gets better at it and feels good about it. “There’s no easy way in Haiti to make electricity work,” an American friend and colleague of his has told me. I want to hear more about that from Longuisse, who is quiet and intense and doesn’t seem interested in “easy.”
So he and I are sitting together with Kathleen McLean, our Haitian-American translator, in the utility room of College Saint Gabriel, a secondary school in the village of Fontaine in Haiti’s remote central mountains. We talk past 10 o’clock on a Monday night in August, and the cooler breezes of the sunset hour have dwindled, leaving us to try to make ourselves understood over the noise of an electric fan — another luxury.
Longuisse is talking about solar power, which he sees as the answer to his country’s ineffectual efforts to build a national energy infrastructure out of massive gasoline generators, a few hydropower plants and a mostly dormant grid of power lines, one of which runs along the road that passes this school without connecting to the building. He’s seen pictures of solar arrays in the United States with hundreds of thousands of panels. The vision thrills him. But here’s the irony: Few people in Haiti, “a country rich in sun,” make the effort to harvest it. “It’s a waste of sun that’s occurring in Haiti,” he says.
But that is beginning to change, and Longuisse, who comes from a town further north, wants to be part of it. Three years ago he visited this school as part of a team that installed a 900-watt solar array on its roof. It was a modest project, but those six silicon panels did something even more powerful than run the school and its bare-bones computer classroom during the day. They also charged the solar lanterns that students could take to their darkened homes at night, making more time for reading, homework and enlightened conversation.
Bill Jordan ’85 calls those solar lanterns “little seeds of hope out in the countryside.” As the creators of the Let’s Share the Sun Foundation, he and his wife, Nancy Brennan Jordan ’85, give from everything they have to help Longuisse Simón and other Haitians sow them.
Bill is the founder and CEO of Jordan Energy, a small solar-power development firm based in Albany, New York. A displaced San Diegan who favors polo shirts and blue jeans as work attire, Bill wears a smile more often than not. He’s a reader, a sponge of technical and financial concepts, a connector of some rather big dots, like the emerging demand for solar power in the northeastern United States and the lack of electricity access across much of the sun-soaked equatorial world.
Nancy, a full-time nurse practitioner, is the volunteer executive director of Let’s Share the Sun. She is all details and plans, ever-hopeful but a little risk-averse, her pale blue eyes able to see humor in adversity, her care for the poor being as expressive of her Irish Catholic upbringing in Yonkers, New York, as are her fairy giggle and occasionally sailor mouth.
Their story might not be unusual — a mother and father of three, working together to make a living — but for one detail of faith. They launched Jordan Energy and Let’s Share the Sun at the same time in 2009, diverting cash they had saved to start the company toward the charitable foundation so it could begin its work immediately — years before Jordan Energy turned profitable.
The company was born out of Bill’s long search for his life’s work — which he’d mostly spent in missionary endeavors and in public service, helping struggling farmers from California to Chile to New York make plans for a better future. Let’s Share the Sun was Nancy’s hey-wait-a-minute idea that harkened back to principles from their early post-graduation days as Holy Cross Associates in Chile: You don’t wait until you’re comfortable to begin sharing what you have with those who need it most. So the couple got on their knees and prayed, Nancy says.
After their initial investment, they committed to tithing from Jordan Energy’s revenues to support the foundation’s work. Haiti’s energy deficit, the most acute in Latin America, made it a leading candidate for those efforts even before the earthquake of January 2010 devastated its capital, Port-au-Prince.
Nearly five years later, Let’s Share the Sun has installed solar arrays on more than a dozen institutions across that Massachusetts-sized country, most of them with Longuisse Simón’s help. Nearly half of those installations have coincided with the foundation’s annual summer trip, designed to better acquaint its board members, potential donors, volunteers and college students to the problems of a world in which more than 1 billion people live without electricity. In 2015, the invited delegation also includes a few journalists.
Two days before we fly down, I am in the back seat of Bill’s white Toyota Prius as it whips east along Interstate 90 out of Albany, witnessing what I take to be a fairly typical day in his working life. The idea is to understand the motor driving the foundation’s mission. Bill is next to me making phone calls to check on Jordan Energy projects, a laptop showing a spreadsheet of nearly 400 potential clients balanced on one leg, his iPad open to email on the other. He’s put 120,000 miles on this Prius since 2013, most of them building his business in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut among an unlikely clientele of dairy farmers, wine growers and local governments. Today, his college-bound son Stephen is at the wheel.
Jordan Energy doesn’t install solar arrays. Instead, it helps clients assess their energy needs, find the right products, navigate the complex world of private financing, government grants and tax credits, and match it all up with reputable installation firms. “Solar you can trust” is the company’s motto.
Proving it true may be Bill’s trickiest task of all, given the young industry’s reputation in the United States as a haven for shysters and failed penny-stock salesmen. So far, no one has found reason to challenge it. Founded on paper in 2007, Jordan has grown steadily since 2012, when Bill, then 49, left his day job with a company that built utility-sized, multimegawatt solar arrays and went solo full time. The company turned a profit in 2014 and now is looking to add to its staff of four.
Our first stop today is Hunt Farm, a 400-acre, 250-cow dairy on Massachusetts Route 2 about two hours east of Albany. The scene would be a dairyland cliché worthy of a Ben & Jerry’s signboard — puffy clouds sailing across blue sky, Holsteins mooing across green pastures — were it not for the farm’s most distinctive landmarks. The roof of George Hunt Jr.’s long, white barn is covered, north to south, with photovoltaic panels. So are 11 acres of leveled land next to it: Row after row of shining black silicon.
Jordan Energy didn’t develop either project. But about four years ago, as Hunt mulled the first installation on his barn roof, Bill Jordan dropped by on the advice of a mutual acquaintance. Seeking to build relationships that might turn up business leads, he offered to review Hunt’s contract for free.
He spotted that the contractor had left out a federal grant that could save the farmer tens of thousands of dollars. Not to worry: Bill could write the proposal. Hunt cut him a check for $1,000 on the spot. They shook hands, and Bill drove home. The next day, the contractor told Bill by phone that his company would write the proposal for the “overlooked” grant, thank you very much. Bill returned Hunt’s check.
“He could’ve kept it,” the gregarious dairyman tells me after greeting us in the gravel driveway between his parents’ small farmhouse and the highway. “I’d’ve never seen him again.”
Instead, when Bill returned in 2014 to see how Hunt’s solar experiment was coming along, he found a happy man. The barn-roof array had all but eliminated the $1,400 monthly electrical bills on his farm operations and drew a small refund 10 months a year for the net power he supplied to the grid. “It pumps the water, takes care of this house, cools the milk, milks the cows, runs the lights,” Hunt says, and just like that one of his largest operating costs was gone. The idea of producing power during peak sun that he could sell to the grid or to other consumers cast new light on the farm operations. There was no reason he couldn’t build more. So the farmer began to think about harvesting sunshine.
In 2008, when Jordan Energy was little more than an idea and Let’s Share the Sun didn’t yet exist, Sharp Solar ran an ad in The Wall Street Journal. “With the sunlight that hits the earth in one hour,” it claimed, “we could power the world for a year.” The observation wasn’t original, but as growing anxiety over climate change and war in the Middle East reignited talk of energy independence, it spotlighted rapid changes afoot in the energy industry.
At the time, solar’s share of U.S. energy production was minuscule. Since then, say technology entrepreneurs Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, U.S. solar capacity has grown at a rate of 30 percent per year. Panel efficiencies are rising and prices are falling. Bill has seen costs drop from $8.50 per watt when he started to about $2 today. Meanwhile, advocates claim solar is the only technology capable of adding the umpteen trillion watts of energy required to meet the global demand anticipated by 2050.
- Learn more about the Let’s Share the Sun Foundation.
“Energy is arguably the most important lynchpin for abundance,” Diamandis and Kotler write in their 2012 bestseller, Abundance. With it, we solve water scarcity and its attendant health problems. We improve education. Reduce poverty.
Poverty wasn’t George Hunt’s problem so much as having a farm to pass on to his children. Milking cows isn’t lucrative, he explains. Farmers may get a good price every third year or so. You’ve gotta adapt. Hunt sells firewood and hay, and years ago began investing in local real estate. Cows are still the core of the operation, but he wants his daughters and son, all young graduates of Cornell University Dairy Sciences, to know you can have a decent quality of life without milking a thousand of them every day.
Such thinking suits Bill Jordan’s business model. When Hunt met Bill, the 51,000-farm U.S. dairy industry had announced plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent nationwide by 2020. Closer to home, Massachusetts opened itself for solar business by establishing solar renewable energy credits, which reward investors for the environmental value of electricity generated by their panels, and by instituting statewide targets for the solar program, which Bay Staters like Hunt have repeatedly hit with the help of brokers like Bill.
‘There’s a lot of fly-by-nights and a lot of churn in this trade,’ Hunt says, glancing across the table at Bill and signing the contract. ‘I’m trusting him to come through and do as we all agree.’
So, instead of selling an unfarmable chunk of property to Walmart, Hunt opted for more solar. A lot more. Today the city of Lowell, Massachusetts, obtains energy from the 3-megawatt array next to Hunt’s barn, which provides him a land-lease income of $1,000 a week. It’s nowhere close to the cash the big-box retailer offered, but Hunt has become a sun farmer and he likes it.
Since then he’s given Bill the names of 25 or 30 farmers who see the value of his new crop. Every successful referral brings Hunt a small commission.
The day we visit, Bill presents Hunt with a contract for a 145-kilowatt array: $376,000, parts and labor. Jordan Energy will bank $25,000 and — not in the contract — pass $2,500 on to Let’s Share the Sun. The panels will crown a building over on the other side of Hunt’s solar-panel sea. There, what looks like another barn is an arena that hosts indoor hockey and lacrosse leagues. Hunt leases the building to a sports-management company.
His restaurateur tenants at Herrick’s Tavern next door will use the power generated by this new system and lower their energy bills. Over Herrick’s cheeseburgers, Hunt tells me Bill is the most honest person he’s met in the solar business, and he’s not going to have his lawyer review the details.
“I don’t believe the guy is lying to me. And there’s a lot of fly-by-nights and a lot of churn in this trade,” he says, glancing across the table at Bill and signing the contract. “I’m trusting him to come through and do as we all agree.”
Hunt’s customers rely on him the same way — especially the small ones. Every Wednesday afternoon, Benedictine nuns from St. Scholastica Priory purchase several gallons of milk for their Fontina cheese. Within hours they hoop four 2-pound wheels or one 8-pound wheel that will age over the next three months, seeking consistency before they test this needed source of income in the marketplace.
The relationship is reciprocal — and what he gets is more valuable, says Hunt, a nondenominational Christian. The nuns prayed for his father, George Senior, when he was suffering with cancer; the older farmer credits the nuns for its remission.
The Jordans may also share in the blessings, because the sisters are now praying for Let’s Share the Sun and its upcoming installation trip to Haiti.
The road to Fontaine
Two days later, early Saturday morning, Bill and I board a plane at JFK for Port-au-Prince with Nancy and the other 13 members of Let’s Share the Sun’s 2015 delegation.
If solar power in the northeastern United States is about smart business and energy independence with a dash of public-policy concern for the planet, then in Haiti it’s about education and healthcare and turning the corner on survival.
Let’s Share the Sun’s mission is to be a catalyst for Haiti’s nascent solar economy. The foundation solicits donations of money and solar panels to build upon the stream of Jordan Energy revenue. But it hires Haitian labor, helps its Haitian partners set up solar-related microbusinesses such as subsidized lantern sales, and encourages the purchase of equipment, batteries and hardware from Haitian merchants.
Nancy tells me a story to illustrate Let’s Share the Sun’s goal of Haitian empowerment. She first met Longuisse Simón when the foundation installed PV panels on the Residence Filariose, home of the Notre Dame Haiti Program’s effort to eradicate lymphatic filariasis from the country. Longuisse had already worked three years for Bill’s friend, Richard Hansen, who had long experience with solar projects in Haiti and other parts of the developing world. There was Hansen up on the residence’s white roof, drinking coffee, watching the Haitians work and offering sage advice — but not once picking up a tool.
The hands-off approach is error-prone, Nancy admits. But it allows Haitians the chance to shape an industry and profit from the ground up. Longuisse has been their electrician of choice ever since Hansen introduced them. He’s led installations and performed maintenance on projects all over Haiti, from a monastery in Plaisance to an orphanage in L’Artibonite. Lately, he’s been mentored by the Jordans’ friend, Ken Oldrid, a ponytailed and positive-thinking electrician from Vermont who works for a residential solar company in Albany.
When Longuisse finally meets us outside Port-au-Prince’s airport after a last-minute equipment run, we pile into a pair of vehicles crammed with luggage and supplies. Most of it — dried food, clothes, medicine, toys and school materials — will find its way into Haitian hands. Students such as Morgan O’Hare from St. Lawrence University and Stanford-bound Nora Kelly, daughter of board member and Notre Dame law professor James Kelly, will lead crafts and teach English to the children who will swarm us tomorrow morning.
Haiti’s tepid public power grid, running mostly on diesel generators, has limited reach and a thready pulse. The U.S. Agency for International Development has called the country’s energy sector ‘one of the weakest in the Western Hemisphere.’
Our driver, Jac Lubin, is the Jordans’ contact through Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), a partner in national efforts to strengthen Haiti’s school system. Jac’s transportation business includes a tap-tap — the colorful, iconic Haitian bus — that he drives along a scheduled route, the ancient Nissan Pathfinder I’m riding in, and a roster of drivers and mechanics. His English, learned in Chicago, is flawless. He explains that tomorrow, Sunday, Haiti will lock down for an election day as 2,000 candidates stand for fewer than 150 seats in the national parliament. Haiti has a record of election violence, he says. Once we reach Fontaine, we’re not going anywhere until Monday.
Leaving the airport, we notice what might be a glimpse of Haiti’s solar future: panel-powered LED streetlamps lining short stretches of the avenue, a government pilot project, Jac says. Soon he points out a small power plant on the city’s outskirts where the dusty moonscape surrounding the lingering camps of the earthquake-displaced looms ahead of us in the distance. The diesel-burning utility is privately owned, says Jac.
Few can afford this privately distributed electricity. Meanwhile, Haiti’s tepid public power grid, running mostly on diesel generators, has limited reach and a thready pulse. The U.S. Agency for International Development has called the country’s energy sector “one of the weakest in the Western Hemisphere.” Power lines run everywhere, but in little towns such as Fontaine not a single building is connected. Residential connections exist in larger cities, but service is unreliable and the average home or business has power only 10 hours per day. Some use home generators despite the $5 per gallon price of gasoline. Others, like Jac, use off-grid solar to light their homes. As we’ll soon see, the majority of the island nation is in darkness after sundown.
We have a five-hour drive ahead of us. Framed in by mountains, College Saint Gabriel lies only 83 miles away, but even the paved segments of mountain road are rugged and steep. Navigating them will require horn-honking slaloms along the straightaways through a parade of heavy trucks, dogs, motorbikes, goats, chickens and pedestrians.
Up in the greener mountains north of Port-au-Prince, Bill briefs Jac on the work awaiting us at St. Gabriel. During Longuisse’s first visit in January 2013, he says, Let’s Share the Sun delivered enough solar power in theory to run the lights, a few fans and a computer classroom, and store the rest in a bank of 12 batteries.
Now, the foundation is delivering 26 panels donated by GE to add 3.6 kilowatts to that initial array. This means more lights, more fans, a refrigerator Bill is hoping the school has bought with money already sent, and a donated iPhone they’re bringing for use as a hotspot.
North of Hinche, with less than 20 miles for us to go, the pavement ends. So does the dry weather and daylight. Ahead of us, a truck slows in the rain, and the dozen men standing on its bed unfurl a blue tarp and hold it over their heads. The gullies fill. Jac takes the bumps as fast as he’s able, but within minutes the rough roadbed turns into a river. As the rain ebbs, we pass miles in darkness. Our headlights give off the only electric light save for the rare motorbike or, less common still, a solar lantern in someone’s backyard. Yet for hours the roadways here attract as much life and activity as they see during the day.
We reach St. Gabriel in a renewed, steady rain at 8:30. Pierre-Louis Joizil steps out from beneath the school’s balcony and greets us with a hearty bonswa. Pierre-Louis is the school’s 36-year-old director. He grew up in Fontaine and, like every other child, attended the local parish grade school. When they finished sixth grade, generations of Fontaine’s children faced a choice: Walk two-and-a-half hours to and from the nearest secondary school, or find something besides school to do. Pierre-Louis took the road less traveled and devoted himself to creating a better alternative for the future.
The stony cul-de-sac in front of the school fills with our chatter as introductions are made and gear is unloaded. We drop our bags in bedrooms made up for us in the school office, or upstairs where medical students from the University of Buffalo run a clinic and pharmacy twice a year.
Soon a Daihatsu flatbed arrives. Men and boys materialize from the shadows to stow thousands of pounds of concrete, sand, cinder blocks and solar panels. They work in silence. Pierre-Louis directs us to a classroom where our dinner awaits under a single fluorescent light bulb. He offers grace in Creole, and Bill thanks him for hosting us. We begin filling our plates with barbecued goat, fried plantains, steaming rice and beans — and the power goes out.
Sighs and nervous laughter ripple through the room. Then some bright person holds up her smart phone and others switch on headlamps. When the generator kicks on, we take our seats around the long tables.
Ken Oldrid, the American electrician, sits next to me and shares the latest setback: We may not have the right parts for the installation. “One thing about these projects is that there’s always a lot lost in translation,” he says, his mind already working the puzzle ahead. “It looks like they bought completely different materials than what we specked out for.”
Among the new parts is an expensive inverter, which turns the DC electricity the panels produce into the AC we use in lights and appliances. Ken says the school already has one of those and instead needs more charge controllers, which adjust the voltage, or volume of electricity, coming out of the panels and protect batteries from overcharging.
Right now they’re sitting in a warehouse back in Port-au-Prince, if they’re to be found in Haiti at all.
Early Sunday morning I awaken to silence. The air is heavy and still. The fans are off, meaning we again have no power, at least until the sun rises and the photons and electrons start flowing.
After 6:45 Mass in town, where the gathering election crowds seem orderly, we eat a quick breakfast and convene on the school’s flat roof. Longuisse appears and disappears up and down the concrete steps, making assignments. Ken explains to us novices the options he sees for connecting the new array with the row of panels already there.
Only two and a half years in service, the panels are already showing stress. One is spider-webbed with cracks, and the edges of the thick concrete frame into which all of the panels are bolted create enough shade to darken cells and diminish their capacity. Worse, while the closed ends of the concrete frame make the system impenetrable to panel thieves, they also make it impenetrable to air. As a result, the panels feel like an oven door. Nothing kills solar efficiency like overheating, Ken says.
Downstairs, Ken’s found batteries fried by constant, low-grade use. They should last five years, Bill points out. Fortunately, 24 fresh batteries arrived with the supplies last night, enough to cover the combined system. Bill puts battery management training for school staff and a power audit of the building on today’s to-do list. Rose Kelly, the delegation’s only high school student, volunteers her afternoon to create this inventory of the school’s electrical load.
The missing brackets, wires and hardware mean little electrical work can be done. Ken soon discovers that even the lone charge controller Longuisse purchased in Port-au-Prince cannot handle our high-voltage panels. A Monday parts run to Port-au-Prince, or to Cap-Haïtien a few hours north, now seems inevitable. It also will leave Longuisse no more than four hours of daylight to build the entire system. We may depart Tuesday with the project unfinished.
The enforced Sabbath leaves us more time to visit with our hosts. Every child in Fontaine knows that Americans are in town. Work gloves dangling from the back of his cargo shorts, Stephen Jordan jumps into a soccer game dominated by barefoot boys. Ken hosts a bubblewrap-popping party. Digital cameras, phones and laptops become instant child magnets. Inside a classroom, Bernadette Jordan ’16 and Danielle McLean, a Binghamton University athlete, lead games, songs and lessons. Danielle’s mother, Kathleen, tells stories and draws pictures to help the communication. The children are spellbound.
After supper, Pierre-Louis walks us two minutes toward town to meet families and learn more about the school. Another volunteer translator and I stop at the home of Clara Dantil, a shy, 14-year-old ninth grader who wants to become a nurse. While Clara’s age is on par with American freshmen, she goes to class with boys and girls several years older who may now take advantage of an education they’d nearly missed. At St. Gabriel, she and her sister Asmide, 12, learn English, French, math and science, and can take health and computer courses unavailable at the school in Pignon miles away. They get a lot of homework, which Clara says she often starts at 9 at night. Her solar lantern hangs near a curtained window. It cost the family $22, a fortune, and sheds the home’s only light.
In 2014, Let’s Share the Sun and ACE supported a randomized control trial of lantern use in two Haitian communities conducted by economics major Matt Mleczko ’15. Mleczko found that when students like Clara have a solar lantern in their home they will spend an average of 22 extra minutes on homework per day. That may not sound like much, but T.J. D’Agostino ’04, ’06M.Ed. of ACE’s Haiti initiative says “time on task” is a significant predictor of educational outcomes. Twenty-two minutes over 150 school days is like two extra weeks in the classroom.
Clara’s father, Augustin, is justifiably proud of his daughters. He says the whole village turned out to build College Saint Gabriel. When he was Clara’s age, he walked miles to school like Pierre-Louis. Now, he says, children from other villages are walking to school in Fontaine.
Back at St. Gabriel, Bill reports that he’s spoken with Richard Hansen in Boston, who gave him the numbers for five hardware stores in Port-au-Prince. One of them is holding three suitable charge controllers for pickup. Nancy gathers us in the dining room for our nightly reflection and Nora Kelly reads a passage from John 8: “I am the light of the world.”
Monday morning, Jhoncy Audate, the computer teacher, shows me the classroom where Clara learns Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Audate says the new solar is important to him because the computers’ batteries are dead. When the electricity fails, the laptops shut off. “Sometimes,” he says, “the students cry.”
Outside, Jac is ready to drive north to Cap-Haïtien to pick up the wire, wire nuts and split bolts needed for the afternoon’s solar hookup. Julio, his other driver, will go to Port-au-Prince. Jac agrees when several of us ask to tag along to Cap-Haïtien. We pull away at 9 a.m.
In the end, we drive more than five hours round trip for half an hour’s worth of transaction. At the cracker-box Edison Electric Shop in downtown Cap-Haïtien, Ken offers advice, Longuisse selects purchases and Jac haggles with the bemused shopkeeper, who has caught the scent of American money.
As we bounce our way back to Fontaine without stopping for lunch, Ken gets motion sickness. He disappears at St. Gabriel to sleep it off.
By 3:30 that afternoon, a crowd has formed on the roof to see how much can be accomplished before sundown. Longuisse checks on the masonry in progress. Each of the three rows of panels will span a higher back wall and a lower front wall, leaving the ends uncapped for ventilation.
As we wait, Pierre-Louis describes for me the microbusinesses that will keep the school’s system sustainable. Lantern sales are obvious. Parents could charge their cell phones there instead of walking miles to find a roadside vendor. When the clinic refrigerator arrives, the school will vend ice. He’s even thought about buying a photocopier and opening a copy shop.
After an hour, a restored Ken emerges. By 5 o’clock the concrete has firmed enough to permit panel work. Just before 6, the rooftop bathed in pink and golden sunlight, Julio returns from Port-au-Prince with the charge controllers. The workers’ moods lift instantly. Halfway through the connections on the first row, concrete dust powdering his hands and wrists, Longuisse has a smile on his face.
Soon his crew hits a rhythm: Cut the coating, twist the wire, fold it over, cap it off. Tighten the bolt, wrap the tape. Black for negative, red for positive. After 20 minutes, Ken and driver Julio brush elbows. “Aw, shit! Gee,” Ken recoils, his eyes wide and playful. “Did you feel it, too? Don’t touch me anymore!” Electricity is flowing.
At sundown Ken reviews what hasn’t been accomplished: Some critical wiring to the circuit breaker and six more panels to attach, which Longuisse will finish at dawn. Bill calls it “a small miracle.” Nancy congratulates Longuisse on a job well done.
And what’s done is good enough for a party that spills out to the balcony. I arrive to find Bill and Nancy dancing to a mix of Haitian and American pop songs. Soon, they switch partners. Bill turns to his daughter Bernie, Nancy to Longuisse, in a celebration of life and abundance.
Four years ago, after Let’s Share the Sun completed work on the Notre Dame Residence Filariose building, Bill says program director Jean-Marc Brissau ’08LL.M. took him aside. “Thank you for your charity, but we want jobs in our country,” he recalls Brissau saying. “We want to make the panels here.”
Manufacturing may not be a realistic short-term goal, Bill says. But development and installation work could be. What he sees in enterprising younger Haitians like Jean-Marc, Pierre-Louis and Jac Lubin is a little bit of himself, the forthright actor with a head full of dreams, taking a risk on a shaky stage yet with so much more to gain than to lose.
Longuisse Simón has two dreams. He’d like to see his countrymen rely less on gasoline generators. And he’d like to work with Ken Oldrid in New York for a few months, maybe the last stage in his professional training before he can lead without help.
“Solar is the best way to have an environment that is simple,” Longuisse says. “As soon as the sun rises we have energy with no expense.”
That is true. It’s also not so simple. Not in the United States. Not in Haiti.
While many states have renewable energy standards, few have adopted Massachusetts-like incentives that accelerate solar’s “grid parity,” that moment when sunshine becomes the cheapest per-watt resource. American utilities haven’t yet embraced solar as a serious alternative to coal or natural gas and often charge solar adopters steep grid-connection fees.
Batteries, still costly and inefficient, leave even the most enthusiastic solar cheerleaders tied to the grid for now, though Tesla CEO Elon Musk promises a breakthrough by 2017 that has solar, windpower and electric-vehicle advocates chirping about the next wave of the energy revolution.
In Haiti, talk at the grassroots dismisses completion of a national grid. A proliferation of power lines might only tie the country down. Longuisse calls off-grid solar’s potential to transform his country a “_belle question_.”
After six years, Nancy Jordan is ready to step down as Let’s Share the Sun’s director and refocus on healthcare. Letting go is easy, she says. She’ll stay involved, but leadership was always the Holy Spirit’s job, anyway.
Bill Jordan, too, has dreams to pursue, like opening Jordan Energy’s West Coast office. Maybe he can talk the San Diego Chargers into making its future home the first fully solar-powered venue in the National Football League.
He and Nancy need to pray about that. Which reminds him: They want to donate enough solar to St. Scholastica Priory to eliminate the nuns’ power bill and get their cheese to market parity.
“We can’t afford it yet,” he says. “But we’re not far off.”
John Nagy is an associate editor of this magazine.