Donna Pickard

Donna Pickard | TruNorth Solar | Permissions Manager

ARDEN HILLS, Minn -- Working part time in the Minnetonka School District, Donna Pickard, a mother of three, never expected to change professions so late in her career. A decade later, Donna along with her husband Charlie, are some of the most knowledgeable solar industry experts in the state. “It’s interesting. I would have never guessed that entering my fifth decade of life I was going to enter a whole new employment line and have it be one that I just absolutely loved,” smiles Donna.

Minnesota’s solar industry: in the beginning

In 2008, Donna and Charlie single-handedly started Aladdin Solar (a residential solar installer), which rapidly became a bustling operation. “When [Charlie] started getting more and more jobs I needed to step in and help with the administrative part… And then as we got even busier I had to quit my job at the school and I actually joined him on the roof for a few years,” Donna explains. This began her love for the communal aspect of solar installation. As the fledgling Minnesota clean energy industry was born, small solar startups frequently banded together with the goal of making residential solar a reality. In fact, that community introduced Donna and her husband to their current employer.

Solar today

Today, Donna works at TruNorth Solar in Arden Hills as the Permitting Manager where she obtains approval from utilities, building departments, and electrical departments of different cities in order to install intended solar systems. Charlie, semi-retired, does the company’s electrical design work. TruNorth Solar, a Minnesota company that specializes in residential, commercial, and utility sized PV projects, has become the perfect fit for Donna and her husband. “This has been totally unexpected for me. But 100% welcome and it really fits both of our personalities and both of who we are.”

Donna is most excited about the future of solar, and what it means for people like her in the growing industry. She explains, “It’s one of the fastest growing economic industries in the state, employing more people than the fossil fuel industries. It’s really exciting to see this kind of growth as someone who’s been in the industry from its early days.” 

Fast growing industry

According to the Clean Jobs Midwest Report, the solar industry employs 4,917 Minnesotans. In fact, the renewable energy industry as a whole in the state is growing at a rate of nearly 12 percent. It’s the fast-paced growth of renewables that helps contribute to the state’s more than 61,000 clean energy jobs. The industry is growing at a rate 2.5 times faster than Minnesota’s overall economy.

In addition to her day job, Donna is committed to seeing the success of solar by dedicating her free time to working with industry trade groups and learning what can be done to, “move that needle to grow the industry.” Donna is grateful to have happened upon this second career path. She loves her job and is hopeful for the future of the solar sector in Minnesota. “It feels wonderful to be able to come to work and feel proud of what I do. And just feel good about it. That’s been true ever since the beginning.”