When Tope Lala and his three business partners started Solar Energy World in Elkridge two years ago, they hoped it would be the region’s leading provider of solar electric panels and solar water heaters.
To that end, they have been successful. The business currently employs 34 people—impressive growth in an industry that has been plagued with financial losses.
What Lala and his partners admit, however, is that they underestimated how entrenched conventional energy policy had become in the United States.
“We have an energy policy that favors the status quo," said Lala. "While we have made great strides in the promotion of renewable energy, we [are] still riding the coattails of fossil fuels down a path of self-destruction."
The partners became convinced that community activism would have to be part of their business strategy before their rooftop solar panels would gain wide acceptance. In short, they realized they had to first win the hearts and minds of voters if clean energy–principally solar, geothermal and wind–would garner the same tax incentives oil and coal companies received.
“The amount of government monies spent on energy sources is heavily skewed toward fossil fuels," said Lala. "Between 2002 and 2008, a whopping $70.2 billion of subsidies went toward fossil fuels, [including] $53.9 billion in tax breaks to tremendously profitable corporations. On the other hand, a relatively scant $12.2 billion was spread around to renewable energy resources.”
To further their cause, Lala and his partners—Al Gleeson, George Dunning and Geoff Mirkin—started a nonprofit, Clean Energy Coalition Mid-Atlantic (CECMA), which they unveiled at a press conference in Elkridge on April 22.
CECMA members plan to advocate for stronger clean energy programs and incentives from federal, state and local governments; educate others on the importance of clean energy; and reduce or “green” their own energy consumption at home and at work, according to Lala. “It is going to take not only recognition by our leaders, but action," he said. "That is the most important issue.”
The organization's Earth Day unveiling occurred at 5681 Main Street, in a Spartan yet clean and bright garage that once housed an auto repair facility and now serves as headquarters for Solar Energy World.
Flanked by clean energy industry advocates and politicians on one side and a solar panel array on the other, Lala said, “Our mission is simple: accelerate the transition of America’s energy supply to sustainable, clean energy. We believe our current system relies too heavily on nonrenewable sources. It is not sustainable, exposes our nation to unstable foreign politics, and steals vital natural resources from the earth as well as future generations.”
After being invited to address the crowd, Maryland State Delegate James E. Malone Jr. said, “There are some encouraging signs. Maryland is number two in the nation for the number of charging stations for and . We are one of the few states that allow electric cars to use their HOV lanes.”
Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony commemorating CECMA’s genesis, Courtney Watson of the Howard County Council joined Malone.
“First and foremost, I’d like to thank Solar Energy World for bringing 34 new jobs to Elkridge. I’d also like to thank them for elevating the community’s IQ when it comes to clean energy,” said Watson, whose district includes Elkridge.
After the conference, Solar Energy World staff escorted people onto the building’s roof, where workers were installing solar panels expected to produce 52,500 kWh of electricity, according to Luke Gibson, a spokesperson for Solar Energy World.