Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Meet Your Solar Installers: Catamount Solar

Copeland Furniture’s 500kW solar system was installed on a polluted brownfield in Bradford, VT. (Isaac Copeland) Read full story in the August 2016 edition of Green Energy Times.

George Harvey

Catamount Solar is a bit different from other installers in a couple of important ways. One thing is that it is employee-owned. In fact, Catamount claims to be Vermont’s only employee-owned solar installer. Nine of its eighteen employees are owners, and the rest are on track to become owners. Ownership requires a minimum of three years of work at the company and a vote by owners. The arrangement makes for a very devoted group of employees who work with a different mindset than workers elsewhere.

The employee-owner paradigm has some effects in the workplace. For example, when data showing results of the work are reviewed, all of the workers take interest. Whether owners or potential owners, they want to have the company be as successful as possible, with the best product it can deliver.

Another thing that sets Catamount Solar apart is its claim to be “Vermont’s #1 Off-Grid Solar Installer.” This is important because off-grid systems can be very different from one another. The systems vary quite a lot in their needs and assets, so the designer of a system has to be able to put together a set of specifications that are specific to the site where it will be built.

Catamount works from an office in Randolph, Vermont, almost in the center of the state. Its customers may be from just about anywhere in Vermont, with a few communities in New Hampshire added. Its installations are both residential and commercial. It installs solar systems and batteries, grid-tied and off-grid. Catamount also installs cold-climate heat pumps.

While the Covid pandemic challenged many businesses, Catamount made use of it as a time when employee-owners could develop skills for doing certain kinds of work without travel. Consultations could be done over the phone or through virtual meetings. To some extent, site evaluations can be done using such tools as Google Earth. Though they were by no means eliminated, trips to sites are reduced to a great extent, saving on both vehicle use and energy. Company owner-employees saw the opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce waste, producing an improvement that may outlast the pandemic because of its positive benefits.

For potential customers, the first step is to get a site evaluation to address the questions of whether the site has potential for generating electricity from solar photovoltaics. This is done for free.

500kW ground-mount system installed in Royalton, Vermont. (Catamount Solar)

If a site does not have potential for solar power, it is not time to despair. Catamount can direct customers to community solar projects, either its own or similar projects of other installers. The projects that a customer can get involved in depend on what utility serves the area, and many customers have them available. Liz Smithies, who is in charge of Catamount’s inside sales, told us, “I always advise them not to wait, because community solar systems tend to sell out rather quickly.”

If a site does have potential for solar power, however, the next step is a detailed proposal from Catamount. The proposal provides the customer with information about what will be in the solar system, specifics about how it will be installed, what the cost benefits will be, and what tax credits, rebates, or other incentives will be available. In addition to guiding customers to incentives and benefits, Catamount also helps with permitting, which is important assistance to customers.

As a matter of happenstance, Catamount opened up a new warehouse and increased its inventory of solar panels just before an important government action reducing panel availability. The federal government had blocked importation of solar panels from four countries in southeast Asia because of high tariffs on solar panels from China and a lack of clarity about where the panels from the four countries were actually made. This is an important issue for many large installers, as it has driven the price of solar panels up from 38 cents to 55 cents per kilowatt, but Catamount has no problems with availability so far.

Smithies also spoke about the reasons people need off-grid systems and why they are particularly important today. With the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing numbers of people are attracted to Vermont as a place to live. One problem with land in Vermont is that it does not always have easy access to electricity and installing grid power can be very expensive. In fact, Nancy Rae Mallery, the publisher of Green Energy Times, bought land nearly 20 years ago, knowing that she would be installing an off-grid system, with the understanding that it would be less expensive than getting a grid connection.

With cost comparisons and the current cost of off-grid systems, which are arguably still low despite cost increases of panels, there is a strong demand for an installer with Catamount’s experience.

The Catamount Solar web site is

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