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52 Tuesdays: Whitney Painter

Wyoming-born environmentalist Whitney Painter was not a typical resident of the cowboy state. “I was a crack-shot, but opted out of hunting. I alway tell people, I’m probably the only vegetarian you know who can dress out a deer.”

Painter graduated with a broadcast journalism degree from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. In college she worked for National Public Radio, an experience she described as “pretty mind expanding for a young person from Wyoming.”

For a decade after graduation, she worked for CNN producing shows in Washington, DC. She loved the work, but didn’t care for the fast-paced lifestyle. Her last year in DC, Painter flew to Colorado six times to go backpacking with her dad. She realized it was time to move back west. Painter worked for an organization that moved her to Colorado to run their western programs.

“It didn’t take me take me long to find activism…there’s a lot of stuff that needs fixing. And to really appreciate how policy affects your daily life. It feels remote but it’s not. One little tweak to one little paragraph can change someone’s life.”

Two months after meeting her now-husband, Bart Sheldrake, her employer wanted her her back in DC to work on an international program. She opted to stay in Colorado and resigned. Six months later, she married Bart, moved to Golden and started Buglet Solar.

“We wanted to spend more time together. It was complementary skill sets for us.” Sheldrake worked for Lockheed Martin in the Composites Lab, putting together rockets. Then he made custom bikes, including the tandem bike they both ride. In an off-handed comment. Sheldrake mentioned how he wanted to utilize solar energy.

“Solar never looses on the ballot. I think people voted for Amendment 37 for good reasons, but maybe not understanding what an opportunity would be there. My whole family had been entrepreneurs, so I always thought, at some point, I would want to have that kind of flexibility and independence.”

“You know what, this is the time, this is the opportunity,” said Painter. They started Buglet Solar (using Painter’s childhood nickname) and moved to Golden shortly thereafter.

The business is located behind their small stone house in north Golden. They discovered it on a bike ride. “We looked at the house and it was so little. We figured most people would just knock it down, but it’s a piece of history. The son of the man who built their Golden home was in the WPA and helped build Red Rocks. They were stealing materials over there and building little pink stone houses all over town to make some extra money.”

Painter served on and chaired the Golden Sustainability Advisory Committee for almost 11 years. “We put all that solar on the different city buildings around town. We started the conversation around, maybe we should be one of the communities in Golden that has net zero requirements. That doesn’t happen overnight, that’s something that starts in really tiny conversations with other members of planning commission as well over time. And improving new building requirements, existing building requirements.”

No longer on the board, Painter still helps out and keeps her eye out for certain sustainability issues where she can be of service.

Buglet Solar is keeping her busy. “We’re making Buglet more and more Golden-centric to try to retain some sustainability. We don’t want to grow to one of those companies that runs seven trucks, and we could easily do that on the demand we have right now.”

“We’re starting to turn away work that’s not a Golden address. We’re not going to keep on growing because we’re just nerds and we want be able to ride our bike. And we want our guys to be happy and have a balanced life.”


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