A Rogers Park man credits the neighborhood’s “social justice perspective” for leading him into the solar energy field.
Eric Heineman is CEO of Windfree Solar, a company based just west of Rogers Park in Forest Glen. The company designs and constructs solar and wind energy systems for residential and commercial buildings.
Heineman, 37, grew up in Rogers Park and graduated from St. Ignatius College Prep High School. He said growing up in the neighborhood, along with his experience at the Jesuit high school helped cultivate his drive toward sustainability.
“I’d say Rogers Park is kind of a social justice neighborhood … so I’m sure having that kind of social justice perspective is part of why I’m generally really passionate about sustainability,” he said.
Heineman went to the boundary waters, a wilderness area along the border of Minnesota and Canada that’s popular among outdoor enthusiasts, every year with St. Ignatius. He described these trips as “environmentally awe-inspiring,” and said that, combined with environmental classes he took, formed his perspective on sustainability.
When he got to college at the University of Vermont, Heineman lived in an environmental co-op, which he said was the “turning point” where he realized sustainable living was his passion.
Heineman said he feels “very lucky and fortunate that [he’s] been able to get paid to save the world for 10 years.”
Heineman believes there’s “tremendous opportunity” for solar growth in Illinois, which he credits to the Future Energy Jobs Act. Under this act, people can receive tax credits by owning wind or solar energy sources. Renewable energy is also subsidized up to 45 percent. These benefits mean clients can get up to 75 percent of a solar system’s price in money back, he said.
Windfree Solar’s first wind and solar project took place at Burr Elementary School in Bucktown. Oprah Winfrey attended the ribbon cutting, and Heineman said employees of his then-unnamed venture joked with Oprah about calling it “Windfree,” a play on her name. Heineman said Oprah loved the idea, but asked only that the company name not be spelled the same as her name – hence Windfree.