February 22, 2010

Interview with Roy Butler

Roy Butler is one of the nicest guys.  And one of the busiest.  The owner of Four Winds Renewable Energy, Roy is a NABCEP-certified PV installer, a NYSERDA Eligible Installer for the New York State PV and wind incentive programs, and an approved installer for the Pennsylvania Sunshine PV program.  He teaches, presents at conferences,…

Roy Butler is one of the nicest guys.  And one of the busiest.  The owner of Four Winds Renewable Energy, Roy is a NABCEP-certified PV installer, a NYSERDA Eligible Installer for the New York State PV and wind incentive programs, and an approved installer for the Pennsylvania Sunshine PV program.  He teaches, presents at conferences, organizes conferences, sits on technical committees, and still climbs wind towers.  I used to think I was busy, but that’s before I met Roy.  Adding one more thing to his ever-growing to-do list, like take time to chat with me, and be cheery about it well, that’s very Roy.   Here’s our conversation:

IREC:   You’re one of the hardest working guys in the small wind energy business: you sit on NABCEP’s Small Wind Task Analysis Committee, you chair NABCEP’s small wind exam committee, you’re on the board of the Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC), you’re involved with the small and community wind conferences, you’re an installer and educator?  How do you find time for all of this?  Are there two Roy Butler’s out there?

RB:  I’ve been wondering about that myself!  I have cut back on wind and PV installations in order to devote more time to these other activities, but I don’t intend to stop installing altogether.  I enjoy it too much and it helps me to be a better wind and PV installer workshop instructor. I’ve been accused of having a gravity challenged right hand, volunteering for all these projects.  I’ve recently learned to sit on that hand a bit more  But that’s probably not going help much, now that I’m an official member of the small wind mafia. I think the “family” probably has other plans for me!

IREC:  Good luck with that.   There’s certainly been an explosion of activity and interest in small wind over the last few years.  Maybe all the behind-the-scenes work from people like you–setting standards for installers and equipment, arranging conferences, educating consumers– that has raised consumer awareness of and interest in the technology.

RB:  There are a lot of dedicated people working very hard to promote and grow the small wind industry and their efforts have certainly helped spark some of the industry growth.  State incentive programs, tax credits and rising energy costs play an even bigger part. I find that anything that hits people in the wallet tends to get their attention.

IREC:  I can attest to that.   I’m curious to know about the work of the SWCC.  This seems to have been moving along at a pretty quick pace.  Aren’t they beginning to start accepting applications?

RB:  Now that the AWEA small wind standard has been approved, small wind testing and certification can proceed. The Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC) is now accepting small wind turbine certification applications. For the two years I’ve been on the SWCC board, I’ve had the privilege of serving with an amazing group of people.  I now have a real appreciation for the huge amount of work that goes into the formation of an organization such as this. The experience has been very rewarding!

IREC:  Foundational processes are immense undertakings.  People don’t really comprehend the scope and scale of setting up systems, whether certifying small wind turbines or small wind installers. There’s a lot of attention to detail, getting the right people together, keeping the process moving along.    I know NABCEP’s small wind task analysis has been in the works for a while.  Will we see a small wind task analysis in 2010?

RB:  The NABCEP Small Wind Task Analysis was approved by the NABCEP board in October of 2008. This month, ten small wind subject matter experts including me met with psychometricians (sounds scary!) and wrote the test questions for the upcoming NABCEP Small Wind Installer Certification exam. The first installer exam is tentatively scheduled for September 2010.

IREC:  That’s great news.  I think there’s mention of that in the January edition of NABCEP News.  Are you spending more time in the field or in the classroom?

RB:  The demand for wind and PV installer training has increased dramatically and in my case, the tail is wagging the dog! Because of this, I’m now spending about 70% of my time each year teaching wind and PV courses for community colleges, renewable energy associations and various others in five states. This is just fine with me because the transition from installer to trainer is my long-range retirement plan–something to do as I get older and too decrepit to climb towers!

IREC:  I’m not sure I would have climbed towers even when I was younger, so I’m glad to hear you’re keeping closer to the ground.  Who’s in your classes?  The general public?  More advanced technicians/installers?

RB:  It depends on the type of workshop. For the most part, it’s workforce training, so it’s a mix of people. Lately there’s been a trend toward “train the trainers” so I’ve been seeing more college staff members in the classroom. In addition to my one or two week installer courses, I also do several one- or three-day intro to wind and or PV workshops that are geared toward the general public and others thinking of getting into the renewable energy fields. I’m also working on some advanced technician courses that are popular with electricians and contractors in related fields, especially displaced workers coming from trades that have been negatively impacted by the depressed economy.

IREC:  We know the demand for renewable energy courses is robust.  We hear from our community college friends that classes continue to have waiting lists, and the shortage of trained, qualified instructors is definitely an issue.  What other obstacles are out there?

RB:   I foresee small wind zoning and permitting issues continuing to hold the wind industry back for the foreseeable future. There’s a real need for wind industry outreach to the “powers that be” to educate them on the improvements we’re making to the wind industry. We want them to see the value of certified turbines, accredited training, certified installers and safe work practices.

IREC:  Without a doubt.  As we talked about earlier, so much work has gone into setting up rock-solid systems throughout the entire value chain:  training the workforce, setting standards for equipment, trainers, programs and installers.  You’ve made such an impact on the industry, Roy.  What’s left to do?

RB:  Try to catch up to Mick Sagrillo but that’s an impossible task! But seriously, I’ll never accomplish everything!  My next project will be helping to set up a national small wind site assessor certification program and  the training programs to go with that. And I’ll always have plenty of work defending the industry against junk science, misconceptions and not ready for prime time wind turbines.

IREC:  OK—I haveto ask:  if you weren’t doing small wind, what else would be keeping you engaged and motivated?

RB:  I love my work  so much, I can’t imagine doing anything else. And it’s too late to change now!

IREC:  Whew…lucky for us.  Thanks, Roy, for all that you do.