Olivia Amyette: Solar with a Family Focus in Northeast Georgia

On April 18, Olivia Amyette held a grand opening of her new solar installation and workforce center in Cleveland, Georgia. Olivia aims to train workers from diverse backgrounds and equip them with the skills they need to prosper in a flourishing industry.

Cary Ritzler | April 30, 2024 | Clean Energy Generation, Georgia, Solar

Launching a New Solar Venture in the Georgia Mountains

Is there really such a thing as infinite energy? Well, not exactly, but with the sun expected to shine for the next five billion years, it’s safe to say that Olivia Amyette has placed a good bet on clean solar power playing a starring role in the energy mix for the foreseeable future.

Olivia is the founder and owner of Infinite Energy Advisors, a new Cleveland, Georgia-based solar company focusing on solar installation. Olivia’s family story and experience entering the solar industry sharpened her focus on the need for more equity and inclusion in the solar workforce, and she hopes this will be the first of a network of centers that will help develop a diverse and qualified workforce to help Georgia meet its largely untapped potential for rooftop solar while lowering reliance on fossil fuels one building at a time. 

Olivia’s business has two components: Infinite Energy Advisors and the Solar Knowledge Institute. Infinite Energy Advisors is a “one stop solar shop” that provides design, installation, and related services to solar customers. The new facility will also host the first on-site comprehensive training center in the Solar Knowledge Institute (SKI), which aims to expand solar workforce options for the next generation.

Olivia cuts the ribbon at Infinite Energy Advisors in Cleveland, Georgia.

A Focus on Family

Olivia’s family and heritage have shaped her entry into the solar sector. Olivia’s maternal grandparents are from Vietnam and Ecuador, and both came to the United States speaking no English. Her mother was born in Vietnam, but raised in Georgia, where Olivia’s dad is from. When she graduated from Georgia Tech, Olivia had several good job offers to choose from that would have taken her far from home, but she made up her mind instead to pursue a career that would allow her to put her family first. 

My grandfather was my best friend and the smartest person I knew. He was an immigrant from Ecuador and he did everything. I decided that it would be better to find a career path where I could stay home and take care of him for what would ultimately be his last moments with us. The solar industry has given me closure that I would not have had if I had pursued the other offers.

Olivia’s extended family and friends gather at the ribbon cutting. Left to right, sitting: Trong Valdivieso and Becky Tolson; standing: Jackie Tolson and Maria Valdivieso

Overcoming Barriers

As she became interested in the solar industry, Olivia noticed the lack of diversity that is common in the solar industry across the country and within Georgia. Nationwide, the solar industry is 69% male and 73% white, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council. An earlier report also identified gaps in pay and advancement for women and people of color. Olivia’s own experience as a young woman with Hispanic and Asian roots entering a predominantly white and male industry demonstrated the barriers that people of color and women face. She saw an urgent need to create a pathway for women and people from marginalized communities to enter the solar workforce.

Being a minority and a female, I got a lot of the experience upfront. Getting in on the industry is hard. People don’t want to tell you anything. People don’t want you to grow and be their competition. I even had someone in the industry say to me ‘I don’t want a girl coming in and messing things up.’ I looked around and tried to see who I could network with and learn how they overcame these kind of barriers, but I could not find another minority female. When I did find another Hispanic person in the industry, they weren’t getting paid well and were working crazy hours. People think they can get away with it when their employees are from the Hispanic community.

Olivia’s experience is not surprising given the historic trends in the building industry as a whole and the current demographics of the solar industry, but she is part of a growing cohort of women and minorities who are breaking into solar. Since 2015, the Georgia Solar Association has recognized and supported women in the solar industry in Georgia through their Women In Solar Energy (WISE) program, which recognized Jonelle Minefee of SolarTyme in 2021. Two of the three installers for the innovative Georgia BRIGHT solar leasing program, Better Tomorrow Solar and Smart Home Solutions, are also owned by women of color. While disparities persist, Olivia joins a growing cohort of women who are paving the way for a more equitable future in the solar industry.

Olivia hopes that SKI can play a role in developing a more welcoming path into the solar industry. SKI is in the process of establishing a solar apprenticeship program, which will be available at low or no cost to trainees. Through the apprenticeship program, Olivia intends to make good on what she calls the federal Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) “magnificent focus” on bringing benefits to disadvantaged communities. The IRA stipulated for the first time ever that for solar projects larger than one megawatt to receive the full 30% federal tax credit, installers must utilize apprentice labor and meet prevailing wage requirements. 

A Perfect Fit in the North Georgia Mountains

Cleveland, Georgia and the surrounding White County is a small community on the southern edge of the Appalachian Mountains. Just beyond the city of Cleveland, the main roads enter the twists and turns of the Chattahoochee National Forest, which holds the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. Cleveland is a rural community with an economy based mostly on agriculture, industrial manufacturing, and tourism. As a small town, Cleveland is just like any other community in wanting to provide its young people with the skills to thrive in a growing job industry. When Olivia, who grew up closer to Atlanta, began to look around for a location to open her first facility and pilot training center, she said she was attracted to Cleveland because of the local school district’s existing vocational training programs. “There was nothing like that where I went to school–I thought that kind of thing only existed on television!” said Olivia.

In fact, White County Schools have had a robust career technical training program for decades, which prepares students to work in the local industrial manufacturing, health, and construction sectors that make up an important part of the local economy. Combined with a warm welcome from the White County Chamber of Commerce, Olivia said her family has fallen in love with the community as she has prepared to open her facility. 

“The Southern hospitality here is real,” she says, “We’ve had clients bake us cookies and welcome us inside.” She looks forward to continuing to grow her relationship with the school district and welcoming local students into her training program. 

According to White County Chamber of Commerce President Beth Truelove, Infinite Energy Advisors was a perfect fit for the county as well. As she put it:

This is an exceptionally great fit for us because of where we are in relationship to the natural preservation that we already have through our forests, the way our agriculture industries protect the land, and the fact that we are at the head of the Chattahoochee River. To have this here is really symbolic. It’s just a big part of our culture here. The farmers really care for preserving our land. The way we preserve the forest, the water, and the land – and now we are just adding clean energy to it. This is a great marriage for us.

Olivia (L) talks with Beth Truelove (R) before addressing the crowd.

The Deciding Factor

In the background of Olivia’s family life and the unique advantages of the local community, recent federal law has paved the way for Olivia to launch her solar business. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 has super-charged the solar industry by creating, growing, and expanding tax credits and grant programs for solar energy. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the solar industry saw over $100 billion in new private sector investments in 2023, and SEIA expects to see more growth over the next decade now that the tax incentives are in place. 

If it wasn’t for the IRA, we wouldn’t be doing this training program at all. The demand for solar wouldn’t be there. The tax credits are the deciding factor for people who want to get solar. The IRA communicates to people that solar is for everyone.

Olivia also sees a unique opportunity within the IRA to focus on diversity in the solar workforce. Between the apprenticeship requirements and the Justice 40 initiative, which directs benefits of climate investments to disadvantaged communities, she says the IRA is providing an incentive to companies to focus on programs that benefit diverse and disadvantaged communities. Regardless of politics, she believes these incentives will help everyone see the advantage of the federal investments in the IRA. 

Even companies that aren’t really intentional about inclusion, the IRA gives them a financial reason to care. As someone said to me, ‘You can be red or you can be blue, but we all know green.’

What’s Next?

Infinite Energy Advisors is already building relationships and gaining a foothold in Cleveland. The local manager of Georgia-based Zaxby’s restaurant attended the ribbon cutting for the new facility since his restaurant will be catering the center’s training programs. Long-term Cleveland resident and master electrician Dirk Reaume was there as well, positioned between the mock rooftop, where trainees get experience installing solar panels, and the practice solar inverter. He has helped Infinite Energy Advisors incorporate solar and battery systems with customers who have whole-house generators. He is excited to be learning about a new industry, and says solar “just makes sense” to people. 

Master Electrician Dirk Reaume attends the ribbon cutting event. 

And, Cleveland is just the first stop for Olivia’s projects. She has already begun talks with a school in Gwinnett County, Georgia to bring their work study students for a shadowing experience, and she plans to design her training program to provide certification that will be useful for trainees across the nation. With SKI offering online portions of her program across many states, her intention is to help the industry grow  with an empowered workforce, not just build out her own installation business. SKI’s training programs will include NABCEP certification and sales training, and she intends to partner with leading manufacturers to provide courses at a reduced cost or for free.

For minority communities, the number one barrier is access: money, transportation, cultural acceptance of the job. We want to be really intentional about having everyone welcome. When people graduate from the program, if someone asks them to have a certain certification, the likelihood that they will have it is good. That will empower people to have a choice of where to work.

Investments Sparking More Industry Growth

Infinite Energy Advisors’ new facility and ambitious plans are part of a broader trend that could transform solar in the South over the coming years. Beyond the tax incentives in the IRA, the Biden Administration announced $7 billion in Solar for All grants to 60 nonprofit organizations and state agencies across the nation on April 21. This program will bring over $150 million to Georgia for innovative programming aimed at making solar more accessible for low-income residents, with similar awards in Florida, the Carolinas, and Tennessee, and an additional regional award that will add even more funding. 

Solar for All is a companion program for the new financing opportunities through the National Clean Investment Fund and Clean Communities Investment Accelerator, which together comprise the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. These programs are expected to slash climate emissions and save low-income Americans by lowering household energy costs, while creating access to capital for low-income communities to expand clean energy options and net zero building. Infinite Energy Advisors and the Solar Knowledge Institute are examples of the kind of innovative, community focused program that Americans can expect as a result of the combination of tax incentives and funding opportunities that make up the Inflation Reduction Act. Communities all around the Southeast, like Cleveland, can expect to see opportunities to lead in bringing clean energy and its benefits to their residents.

Olivia with Drew McCluskey of IronRidge, one of her manufacturing partners.

Join Olivia in Becoming a Member of the Clean Energy Generation

Olivia is one of over 700 people across the Southeast who have joined the Clean Energy Generation – a movement of people around the Southeast who are working on bringing clean energy to our homes and throughout our communities. From handing out flyers at a community event, to switching to electric vehicles for home and work, to starting a new solar training program in a rural community, our members are demonstrating how communities throughout the Southeast can get the full benefits of investments in climate and clean energy. Since launching the Clean Energy Generation, SACE has highlighted efforts large and small that our members are making toward clean energy in their homes and communities. Please let us know that you’re in, and sign up here to be part of our regular Clean Energy Generation email updates and monthly member meetings.

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Cary Ritzler
Cary Ritzler joined the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) in 2022 as Georgia Organizer and is now the Climate Advocacy Manager, working with volunteers and leaders to promote the…
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