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Article on YubNet.com February 5, 2020,

There is synergy with the people of Cal Solar. And, after formalizing that connection through its worker-owned cooperative, Cal Solar has cast a wider, synergetic net through Amicus Solar Cooperative. Amicus Solar is a member-owned purchasing cooperative of over 50 high-quality, independent, values-driven solar energy companies in all 50 states, Washington DC, Canada and Puerto Rico.

Stephen Irvin is president and CEO of Amicus. “I helped start a solar company very similar to Cal Solar in Colorado in 2005 with a college buddy and other friends, Namaste Solar” he said. “We started it as an employee owned business from the get-go. We believed in sharing the benefits and the risk and responsibility. We believed in that business model.”

Irvin said they didn’t know about cooperatives. They wanted to create a business that would promote the use of solar energy. A few years later in about 2009, very large solar companies, moved in. “They were very disruptive,” Irvin said. “They came in hot and heavy, and we were concerned.”

They wanted to keep Namaste Solar employee-owned.

“One way to do that was to tap the power of coming together with other companies for a common goal: Buying power.”

Amicus is a Latin word for friend. It is fitting for the mission to create a cooperative.

“We said, let’s create and own equally a purchasing cooperative,” Irvin said. “This business model is time tested and proven. The most common is Ace Hardware. It is the exact business model. Ace Hardware Cooperative.”

Ace Hardware stores are each independently owned and operated, and all are part of the Ace Hardware Cooperative. They pool their buying power to compete against the larger companies.

As a group, Amicus uses their collective buying power. Discounts get passed on to the companies in the co-op, such as Cal Solar.

“The goal is lowering the cost for their customers and puts more solar out there,” Irvin said. “It helps people go solar. And it’s helping Cal Solar stay independently owned and operated. Not to be rolled up into a bigger group. That’s the big thing it does.”

Solar financing

Reducing the cost of loans and financing also gets passed on to customers. “We say, Bank XYZ, we’ll bring $50M of solar loans to you, can you give discounts? Instead of one at a time, it’s sort of negotiated up front,” Irvin said. “Now Cal Solar has the ability to tap into this brain trust with Amicus.”

Working collaboration

There is also an app available to each company. “At any time an engineer can open the Amicus app to ask a question. They have access now to close to 4,000 solar professionals. Everyone helps each other,” Irvin said. “It’s classic cooperative. The more you give the more you get. Everyone helps each other out. Cal Solar answers questions as well. They’ve already been doing that. Cal Solar is almost 20 years old. The average age is16. Cal Solar has a lot of experience. And now they have the buying power and brain power of an enormous company with the benefits of staying local.”

Nominations are now being accepted for the Shared Capital Cooperative Board of Directors. The election will be from March 30 to April 12 and this year four seats are open; three seats representing cooperative members and one seat representing individual members.

Shared Capital seeks a diverse pool of candidates representing different backgrounds, experiences and geographic regions. Many different skills and expertise add value to our board, including knowledge and experience in cooperative governance, finance, lending, investing, law, marketing, member engagement, cooperative development and CDFIs. Most importantly we are looking for people who are committed to our mission and our work and able to participate fully on the board and at least one committee.

Interested in running? Check out the candidate statement form and endorsement form on our website. There’s also a board job description. People interested in running for the board must be endorsed by a cooperative that is a member in good standing of Shared Capital. Both a candidate statement and endorsement form are needed for a nomination and nominations are due by end of day March 6, 2020.

Shared Capital Cooperative is a CDFI loan fund that is committed to building economic democracy by investing in cooperative enterprises. Shared Capital is a cooperative association owned by over 250 cooperatives throughout the U.S. Members include worker-owned co-ops, housing cooperatives, small farmer co-ops, purchasing co-ops and retail grocery co-ops. Shared Capital has an eleven-member Board of Directors elected by the members of Shared Capital. Ten of the seats represent Shared Capital’s cooperative members and one seat represents Shared Capital’s individual members.

More information about membership and a full list of members is available here. Your questions or finalized materials can go to adam@sharedcapital.coop.

Your Vote Matters! Vote for the Board of Directors starting March 30

This year’s vote will be held electronically from March 30 to April 12. You will  receive an email with your voting credentials. Both individual and cooperative members will vote in this election.

Member cooperatives will receive an email with voting credentials. If you haven’t received credentials by April 2 or if you’d like a paper ballot, please contact adam@sharedcapital.coop. 

For questions, please contact adam@sharedcapital.coop. For biographies and candidate statements of this year’s candidates check back here in March.

How Worker Cooperatives are the Model for a Sustainable Future

Worker-owned cooperatives have proven to be beneficial for businesses and communities. Cal Solar, known as a company that is focused on the environmental and human condition, is the first of such co-ops in Nevada County.
Cal Solar General Manager Lars Ortegren and Operations Manager Angelica Niblock participated in a workshop on the worker cooperative model, presented as part of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival on Sunday January 19th, 1 to 2pm in the Activist Center, at the Nevada City City Hall.

“I think probably the biggest thing was introduction to worker co-ops as a model for transitioning businesses, for people who are either looking to sell their business or locking in the mission of their business that already exists,” Ortegren said. “This was a perfect fit for Wild & Scenic, because it addressed the structure of an environmental company, while focusing on the sustainability of our community”

Flying V Farm’s, Harvest Sales and Communications Manager Lucy O’dea, and Perennial and Maintenance Manager Cody Curtis were also on the panel. Flying V Farms is a worker-owned, certified organic farm in Placerville growing a variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers.
Project Equity’s Sr. Client Services Manager and Regional Partnerships Manager Patty Viáfara, was the panel’s moderator. Project Equity is a national nonprofit organization. “We work to catalyze employee ownership,” Viáfara said. “We work with over 30 companies at different stages. We have seen a great deal of success with our companies that have converted to the co-op model.”

“(For Cal Solar) it’s been great,” Ortegren said. “Especially with trying to run a small business in Nevada County in an every-changing environment, to have a group of people with the same mission allows us to be more adaptable.” Viáfara said these employees are receiving an increase in personal wealth. “And we’ve seen growing community wealth,” she said. “It keeps it in the community. It is ensuring business longevity and keeping local communities thriving.” Project Equity also addresses the silver tsunami. Baby boomers own about a half of the businesses. “There will be a huge wealth transfer in the next few years, starting now,” Viáfara said. Viáfara went on to say there are proven, seven-year old studies with co-ops that show they are more resilient to recession, and are building wealth for their owners.

There are also ancillary benefits.

“Creating employee owners is creating community advocates,” Viáfara said. “Owners are paying attention. They have a stake in what is happening in their community. They are going to city council meetings, they are aware of the pressure on businesses, they are more active in the community.”

Part of the work Project Equity does is a full underwriting. Including how a business performed in the past, potential in the future and market forces. The workshop included the process for converting to a worker-owned business and all its benefits. There was an audience Q&A after the workshop. “I think this is a great model. It’s about creating sustainable economies, to work where you live. I’m here to help people understand the model,” Viáfara said.  “We are talking about worker co-ops as a model to create more economic and environmental sustainability in local communities,” Ortegren said.

When asked about forging ahead as the first Nevada County company to transition, Ortegren said, “Yes, we were blazing our own path. At the same time it was with a special group of people that I really trusted. We formalized something that was already happening in our company.”

Appearing in The Union Newspaper | November 10, 2019

 

Western Gateway Park in Penn Valley is a community hub of sports, nature, entertainment and many picnics and get-togethers. With electricity available at several of the sites, it was a natural choice that a solar array be installed at the park. It was a natural fit that California Solar Electric Company (Cal Solar) install the system.

“It really came down to dollars and cents,” said Nancy Pierce, chairman of the board of directors for the park. “The park was paying about $12,000 per year for electricity and we have plenty of areas where the solar exposure is excellent. We are now expecting to see a total savings of about $175,000 over 25 years! The park can use that savings to do many other things for our users,” Pierce added.

The Western Gateway Recreation & Park District Board of Directors chose to use the solar array as rentable picnic space. “We have little in the way of roof space that is correctly oriented for a solar project,” Pierce said. “This necessitated utilizing a ground-mount system. Because we are a public space, it was logical to use a carport structure for security. We have a huge parking lot with great solar exposure and so that seemed a natural fit. The structure would cover about eight parking spaces, not really much of a gain there to make it an advantage. One night it suddenly dawned on me that moving the structure to the adjacent green area and using it as a covered picnic area made more sense.” The park board and Cal Solar agreed it would work.

“We already have three covered picnic areas that are very much in demand and contribute to our park rental income,” Pierce said. “Having a fourth for our park visitors, especially located so close to our parking area, restrooms, and the frequently used bocce ball courts is a tremendous addition to our park facilities. Plus, it’s generating electricity!”

Installing the array as a covered space also blends with the park aesthetics.

“We have the array nestled back in a tree line over a grassy area so it’s not that noticeable,” Pierce said. “Now that there are tables under it, it looks just like a covered picnic area.”

And it is a good model for other parks.

“In our situation, the solar array over a covered picnic area is a winning combination,” Pierce said. “The project would have cost less had we been able to use an existing roof. I think it would work for other parks in our situation.”

And it blends so well that the park staff has not had much feedback from the public. “I think it is just an accepted addition to the park,” Pierce said.

Which is also why Cal Solar was such a natural fit for the project. With it’s dedication to community and the environment, the park setting and Cal Solar are symbiotic.

“The board of directors went through a careful and extensive process to become educated on solar as a means of generating electricity,” Pierce said. “We called a number of solar companies in our area to ask for bids on our project. Three companies responded and after a period of about a year we finalized with California Solar. Not only were they the lowest bidder, they were the only company with the commercial solar expertise we needed for this installation.”

Pierce went on to say that as construction projects go, it was a smooth process. “I loved working with Cal Solar and appreciated their experience and knowledge,” Pierce said. “They were key in demystifying the intricacies of a solar project. Reid England was the lead on the actual construction. He was efficient, knowledgeable, and produced a quality product. Angelica Niblock was our office support. She made sure I got documents signed and helped smooth out wrinkles with the paperwork and the county. Martin Webb was always available and in contact when needed. He knows the solar industry, patiently answered questions, and was the project’s biggest cheerleader.”

 
While there are many benefits to a grid-tied solar system, having power for your home or business during a blackout is not one of them. 

There are two reasons that grid-tied solar does not work during a PG&E blackout:

#1 The primary reason for solar systems to shut off during a blackout is safety. A Grid Tied Solar Inverter is required by regulation to not produce power in the event of a power outage.  This is because when PG&E sends Linemen to repair any downed power lines, they could be electrocuted if a solar array is back feeding power into the grid. Solar inverters are programmed to recognize when the power coming from the grid is unstable, or down, and will automatically turn off for safety.

#2 A secondary reason is that the power produced by your Grid Tied Solar Inverter varies throughout the day and rarely matches the instantaneous power needs of your home or business.  For example, if your solar array was producing less power than you needed at any given moment, your house would effectively “brown-out,” your lights could dim and your appliances may not function.  This would not only be inconvenient but could damage sensitive equipment, like computers. With a grid-tied solar system, any difference between the power you need and the power your solar can produce is provided by the grid. On the other extreme, if your Grid Tied Solar Inverter is producing more power than you need at any given moment, that power has no where else to go and could cause catastrophic damage.  With a grid-tied system any excess power is sent back into the grid and PG&E credits you for that power.

 

To have power in a Power Outage you need a battery backup system.

A battery backup system will power your home or business during a blackout, and be recharged by your solar array. However, a reliable whole house battery storage system is around an $25,000 + investment, depending on your needs.

If you are seriously interested in a solar rechargeable battery backup system please let us know, and we would be happy to go over the details with you.

You can fill out the online form here, or call (530) 274-3671 and ask to speak with one of our qualified solar designers today.

In most cases a battery system can be eligible for the 30% Federal Tax Credit. Please consult with your CPA to make sure you qualify.

PG&E operational and meteorological teams are monitoring a potentially strong offshore wind event for Wednesday, Nov. 20. There is the possibility of another Public Safety Power Shutoff event on Wednesday.

Please keep checking Yubanet.com for updated info about outages.
You can also visit the PG&E outage map, where you can input your zip code to see if your exact area will be affected.

PG&E plans to notify potentially affected customers beginning Monday morning (Nov. 18)—about 48 hours before a potential shutoff—by phone, text and email. PG&E says they are “working closely with state, county, local and tribal partners to prepare for the potential PSPS.”

 
At Cal Solar we do not install or service back up power generators.

It is a good time to service your generator if you ran it for days at a time during PG&E’s most recent blackouts.

No matter the brand, check the owners manual for specific service needs on your equipment.
You can do most routine service needs on your own by following the instructions in the manual.

Some brands require an oil change after 200 hours of runtime.
Some newly installed units need oil changes and valve adjustments after the first 25 hours of runtime.

If you go to the manufacturer’s website, you can find a list of local certified technicians that will service your generator.
You can also contact them and ask for recommendations in your area.