After six years of planning, CHERP Inc., the Claremont-based nonprofit founded and run by Pitzer College alumnus Devon Hartman ’77, has launched a new project called CHERP Solar Works—the world’s first nonprofit solar panel assembly factory. Based in Pomona, CA, the factory is a prototype facility for a network of nonprofit solar factories to be built in disadvantaged communities across the country.
When in full operation, the factory is expected to create 200 direct and 500 indirect living-wage jobs and provide solar energy free of charge to 6,000 of the lowest-income households in Claremont and Pomona within the first phase of operation, according to Hartman. CHERP’s website says most solar panel production projects outsource the labor of creating solar panels overseas.
“Our goal is to bring back the solar manufacturing industry to the United States, and to deploy it in a nonprofit business model that creates jobs and economic opportunity in disadvantaged communities across the United States,” Hartman said.
As president and CEO of CHERP, Hartman helped develop strategic partnerships with dozens of local community organizations, as well as the Claremont Colleges. The assembly factory will be producing solar panels through a licensing agreement with the solar panel company idealPV. Essential support came from the State of California, which allocated $2.1 million in seed funding for the solar factory project.
In addition, CHERP Solar Works is coordinating with the US Department of Energy to launch a Locally Grown Power micro-factory in every congressional district in the US. The project is called the 435 American Solar Manufacturing Renaissance.
“This will jumpstart the American solar manufacturing sector in a way that creates hyper-local jobs, addresses equity and justice issues, and builds local economies back from the ground up,” Hartman said.
He believes the timing is right for his current endeavor. “We see this project as a shovel-ready stimulus package that has the highest economic expansion multiplier for any program that could be funded to reinvigorate the economy after COVID,” he said.
Hartman has dedicated most of his life to helping people and communities build from the ground—or grassroots—up. His interest in social activism began in high school during the Vietnam War and led to an awareness of the politics of war, civil rights, and gender inequality.
After taking a circuitous route through several colleges and social justice organizations, he discovered Pitzer College, where he created his own major in French and social activism. Then, during his undergraduate years, he fell in love with buildings and craftsmanship and changed his career path from psychology to architecture.
In 1979, with partner and good friend Bill Baldwin, he co-founded the successful and award-winning HartmanBaldwin Design/Build, a full-service architecture, construction, interior design and historic restoration company based in Claremont.
Hartman retired from the firm in 2010 to devote his efforts to fighting global warming. He focused on educating and engaging the community, retrofitting buildings, and teaching builders and homeowners alike how to reduce energy use. He founded CHERP in 2015 with the mission to create local jobs, save money for needy residents, and put funds back into the local economies, all while helping to arrest the effects of climate change and environmental injustice.
Launched in 2021, CHERP Solar Works is a sun-powered extension of that work—a local, hands-on, grassroots venture designed to meet people’s needs and address global challenges.
To learn more about Devon Hartman, please read “Bringing Power to the People,” the cover story in Pitzer’s Fall-Winter 2019 Participant magazine.