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July 2014

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'It's Poorer Than You Can Imagine'
Solar Entrepreneur to Power Up Nigerian Orphanage

With more than 2 million barrels of crude oil produced each day, Nigeria is one of the most steady energy suppliers in the world.

But in remote enclaves of the African nation, electricity is scarce. In the small town of Eku, where an orphanage and hospital serve the needs of malnourished children and impoverished citizens, getting even four hours of sporadic electrical service can seem like a good day.

Montana Busch is trying to help improve that. At 26 years old, the Atlanta Local 613 member and his company Alternative Energy Southeast are preparing a project to install solar panels on Eku's Shepherd Care Orphanage, located in the western Delta State region near the Gulf of Guinea. It's a first step in what he hopes will be a larger effort to provide power to the entire complex, which includes the Eku Baptist Hospital. The facility offers physician and nurse training for specialists who work with leprosy, trauma, pediatric illness and other issues facing local residents.

"It's poorer than you can imagine. The poverty in Nigeria is much more extreme and pervasive than what I've ever seen," said Busch, who traveled to Eku last spring to inspect the site, get a sense for what his team could feasibly do with available resources, and scope out the possibility for further energy development. Another activist on site was Kathy Davison, an anesthetist and nursing student teaching aide whose father, Ed Davison, is a retired member of Springfield, Ill., Local 193.

But with great challenge comes great opportunity, and Busch said that he and his team are up for it.

"Our first step is to build a 7-kilowatt solar array that will power the orphanage," he said. It's a tricky job that will be completely custom, utilizing about 28 photovoltaic panels and spanning more than 400 square feet. Busch plans to bring one of his company's electricians with him when he returns to Nigeria, then team up with a local electrician who has logged hours on other projects at the facility.

Funding for the array will come from Walking In Love Ministries, a Baptist group that has overseen the hospital and orphanage since the 1940s.

The orphanage project is the first of a proposed five-step plan to power the entire complex using nothing but harnessed energy from the sun — which is plentiful in Nigeria's tropical climate, situated just a few hundred miles north of the equator.

But to make further progress, Busch's team will need about $100,000 in funds for the hospital job. "It's going to be a challenge, which is why the hospital project remains a 'maybe' at this point, but we are optimistic," he said. A solution could be to combine funds from private donors with any assistance they might procure from the regional government, Busch said.

The Eku job is one of the first large-scale endeavors that Alternative Energy Southeast is tackling as part of the company's philanthropic efforts. The goal? "Making enough profit to freely give our services to people in developing countries," the company's website, states. "Lives are changed drastically by having something as simple as electric refrigeration. Most people don't realize how many ways electricity makes life easier for us. Imagine your life without it."

Despite his relative youth, Busch has had a passion for green energy since before most of his peers knew what they wanted to do for a career. "I got interested in solar before it was financially feasible, when I was a teen," he said. "I wanted to do something valuable, something that could be a career while doing good for the planet."

"There was an assignment in a high school class where the teacher had us write about where we wanted to be in 10 years," he said. "So I came up with my early plan to be the owner of a renewable energy company."

To achieve his dream, Busch earned a diploma from North Carolina State in Renewable Energy Technologies and embarked on an apprenticeship with Local 613. "The IBEW curriculum was outstanding in helping me develop skills. It's given me a way to make money, but also is a way to help solve the energy problems in the world."

"It doesn't surprise me that Montana is able to do what he's doing, because our apprentice program turns out the best journeymen," said Gene O'Kelley, Business Manager of Local 613. "We're very proud of him for going out on his own to help provide renewable energy."

Such quality workmanship will be necessary in Eku, given its fluctuating energy supply. The hospital currently uses diesel generators that cost about $150 U.S. per day to run. Power to the hospital ping pongs between 160-240 volts at any time, occasionally playing havoc with sensitive machinery used in anesthesia, operations and more.

Busch sees a likely remedy to all of this.

"With solar, you can generate it onsite, store it in batteries onsite, have perfectly consistent voltage and frequency, and it's there when you need it," he said. "And you don't have to worry about being connected to the grid, which isn't very reliable there. On consecutive cloudy days, they'll be able to use a backup generator, as needed. It's a great solution. And it can help improve so many lives."

Busch begins his Nigerian mission in a few months. To make a donation to the project, visit


Atlanta Local 613 member Montana Busch, left, is volunteering to install a solar array that will power an orphanage in rural Nigeria.

Photo credit: Kathy Davison