By Patrick McArdle
Officials at Same Sun of Vermont say they’re aware of concerns about the solar industry, but say their business is doing well and expanding.
Co-owner Phillip Allen said the Rutland company, which sells and installs solar arrays to power homes, businesses and other sites, recently moved to West Street after outgrowing the Center Street location where it opened in 2011.
In the new space, Same Sun has been able to add a solar awning and, this week, an EV car-charging station. The new space is about three times the size of the Center Street location, but still has ground-level access for people who want to come in and learn about solar power, Allen said.
“It’s just really tricked-out for expansion and to help in our way to fulfill the promise of Rutland being the solar capital of New England,” he said.
Same Sun is expanding and committed to the city, Allen said. The company has a staff of 13, and hopes to grow to 19 by the end of the year.
Some are concerned about tariffs on some solar products, and some in the industry complain about a shrinking market. But Same Sun doesn’t use Chinese modules, so tariffs aren’t a concern, Allen said.
“We’re in growth and expansion,” he said. “We’re hiring more people. We see a very, very bright future.”
Allen sees a difference between Same Sun and others who have brought solar projects to Vermont.
“Solar in Vermont is not as rosy if you’re part of the investor class,” he said. “If what you’ve done is come to Rutland, come to Vermont, and try to take advantage of the very generous attitude toward solar, both politically and businesswise, you’re going to make less money than you would have made a year ago doing the same thing. You’re still going to make money, you’re just going to make less.”
Allen said some Vermonters are concerned, as well, about the sale of renewable-energy certificates, commonly known as RECs. Some Vermont solar generators sell those RECs to other states as a way of offsetting the use of nonrenewable-energy sources. The RECs can be used to give an energy user credit for using renewable energy, even if the user doesn’t have a renewable-energy source, because the RECs offset the use of, for example, fossil fuel.
Same Sun retires its RECs to the state instead, Allen said, so all of its arrays are part of Vermont’s efforts to achieve renewable-energy goals.
For Vermonters who want to be ecologically conscious and save money, Allen said, there’s never been a better time to switch to solar.
“I’m still in awe of where we’ve gotten to, which is a cost-competitive alternative in solar versus traditional fossil fuels,” he said.
Among the changes in recent years for Same Sun has been the number of nonprofit groups that have gone solar with the company’s help, Allen said.
In Rutland, that includes St. Peter Church, the Paramount Theatre, the Rutland County Parent-Child Center and, soon, the expansion of the solar array for BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont.
“We’re starting to build that right now, so by Earth Day (April 22), they will have one of the largest arrays in the downtown area,” Allen said. “It’s projected it will, over the lifespan of the array, save BROC about a quarter of a million dollars.”
Munro said Same Sun has provided solar arrays for a number of schools, like Castleton University, Green Mountain College and several public schools in the area.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is a more well-known customer, as the company added a solar array for his home in Burlington.
“We’re never going to give up the residential work, because we feel that every individual making that statement about being self-sufficient and contributing really has a profound affect on the population,” he said.
Some local businesses have also added solar power. Allen said Same Sun could be a draw for Rutland, because potential business owners have a company in town that will help them develop a power source that’s environmentally friendly and saves money.
“All the stories that you hear in this area, ‘How do you keep the next generation here, engaged, involved, making a decent living?’ Solar is like a silver bullet for (the Rutland area) for that,” he said.
Munro said he’s also excited about the ability to host public events in their new space, such as a mixer for the Rutland Young Professionals on March 20 and their own grand re-opening on April 28.