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City of Davis Environmental Recognition Award: Business

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Tuesday night we were honored to receive the 2017 Environmental Recognition Award from the City of Davis. Candidly, it was humbling and nerve-wracking. Here's a link to a video of the ceremony, and below are my rambling, bambling thoughts:

This is like the Academy Awards for us climate geeks, the anti-Scott Pruit. Thank you very much.

I am a solar simpleton. Credit for this award goes to the several hundred property owners we have helped go solar, and the little organization that is the sustainability heartbeat of our community, Cool Davis.

Ours is a community that greatly values sustainability. We value walking and riding our bikes. Driving cars that get good gas mileage, that perhaps are electric. We value making our own energy and growing our own food. We value recycling. We value conserving. And, with all those values, any time any of us do these things, it puts more money back in to our community, because we’re not paying more for gas or electricity or food.

Hence, sustainability to me is not just simply about reducing our GHGs and carbon footprint, but it’s about building a sustainable economy. But, our values have no value if we fail to make an investment in our community. We’re simply winking in the dark, kinda kidding ourselves. Because without an investment, our values are just that: They have no value.

I would like to thank the Council, the Natural Resources Commission, blah blah, mumble mumble.

Past recipients include several of our friends, colleagues, and partners in the climate change fight ... here's a list of businesses that have been honored:

1995 – Ridge Builders Group, Inc.
1996 – Davis Energy Group
1997 – Davis Food Co–op
1998 – Tandem Properties, Inc.
1999 – Calgene LLC
2000 – (none)
2001 – Davis Food Co–Op
2002 – (none)
2003 – Screaming Squeegee Screen Printing & Embroidery
2004 – Sunmart, Inc.
2005 – Harrington Place
2006 – Island Ink Jet
2007 – (none)
2008 – MAK Design+Build, Inc.
2009 – Kiwi Tree
2010 – Hallmark Inn
2011 – Waste Busters
2012 – Café Italia
2013 – Da Vinci High Charter Academy
2014 – (none)
2015 – Neighborhood Partners, LLC
2016 – Sierra Energy
2017 – Indigo Hammond + Playle Architects;  Whole System Designs

Muchas gracias to all for providing us the opportunity to serve our community and planet. Again, we are honored.

Giving thanks, one solar panel at a time

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We’ve had the fortune of helping several hundred property owners go solar. All told, more than 7,500 solar panels shine in our community via RepowerYolo’s guidance. To wit, thank you to property owners who have entrusted us and, thereby, are making the planet a better place, solar panel by panel.

We are occasionally asked, “What makes you tick?” (i.e., why do you do what you do?). Simply, what gets us up in the morning is the growing and aggregate environmental and financial impact of solar systems populated throughout our community. For kicks (and ticks), each solar panel, over its 25-year life, eliminates 7.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of:

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And, each panel, over its warrantied life, generates ~$3,000 in PG&E savings.

Combined, the 7,500 solar panels composing RepowerYolo systems are projected to eliminate 56,250 metric tons of CO2 (or the equivalent of taking 12,000 cars off the road, switching 1.9 million incandescent bulbs to LEDs, or planting 1.5 million tree seedlings). And, our clients are projected to save $22.5 million in utility bills. 

That makes us proud and thankful. Gobble gobble to you and yours.

P.S. - Click here to check out the EPA's Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator ... terrific tool that has yet to be closeted by the Trump Administration!

The coolest organization in our cool city

Sunday, in arms with our comrades Indigo, we had the great honor of hosting Cool Davis’ annual donor celebration. Magnificent vino was poured by Senders Wines and tasty eats were tendered by ChickPeas, tantalizing the palettes of several dozen community leaders. In addition to honoring those committed to enhancing the sustainability of our community, we toasted Indigo's wonderful abode, the first zero net-energy commercial building in Davis (now boasting a beautiful, 46-panel solar array!). A good time was had by all, with special thanks to Judy Moores, Lynne Nittler, Chris Granger and Kerry Daane Loux for their orchestration.

During the event, we shared an update regarding RepowerYolo’s impact, in concert with Cool Davis’ Double Up on Solar Davis campaign. Over the past few years, Repower has helped homeowners install more than 5,500 solar panels. Panel by panel, home by home, the aggregate clean energy impact is pretty cool. Namely, the clean electricity generated by Repower homeowners is the equivalent of: 

- eliminating 16,696 metric tons of carbon dioxide;

- taking 3,519 cars off the road; and,

- planting 429,224 trees

To boot, Repower homeowners are projected to save a cumulative $9,804,774 in PG&E expenses. That makes us smile, and we deeply appreciate the support and confidence of the community.

Back to the coolest organization in our cool city. Cool Davis is the little engine that IS making a difference, proactively fulfilling its mission to "inspire our community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to a changing climate, and improve the quality of life for all.”

Here’s how you can get involved:

1. Act: If you would like a hand reducing your carbon footprint, here are a few examples of how you can take action.

2. Donate: Like all nonprofit organizations, Cool Davis can use your support and we engage you to join Repower in making a contribution. Our assurance: Every dollar Cool Davis raises is invested in pragmatic, impactful measures. 

3. Volunteer: There are myriad ways to get involved, beginning with Cool Davis’ Coalition and Partner forum. Attend and you’ll learn more about last year’s Sustainability Summit, along with recent post election community gatherings on Environmental Justice and Climate Change. Come prepared to work on planning forums, and forming working groups on local policy dialogue and discussing new collaborative projects.

4. Learn: Cool Davis’ website has a wealth of useful tips and tools … click here for the latest news, and here to explore resources.

We are grateful for our collaboration with Cool Davis and their mutual commitment to make Davis a more sustainable place. The time to act is now. Please join us!

There is no urgency to go solar, except …

It happens too many times each week: Homeowners relay stories about aggravating and misleading solar sales tactics. Three common examples:

1. I was told I have to go solar now because the tax credit’s gonna expire.

Erroneous. Next time you flip on the radio, there’s a good chance you’ll hear an ad exerting that Uncle Sam’s gonna stop giving away free money. First, not true. Second, nothing’s free. Importantly, the 30% solar tax credit was extended through 2021. The tax credit’s not going away.

2. Sam the solar sales guy said PG&E’s net-metering program is about to go away.

Rubbish. As we’ve shared, on January 28, 2016, the California Public Utilities Commission — against the wish of PG&E — expanded the solar net-metering program. The cap was doubled from 5% (of PG&E’s peak demand energy coming from net-metered solar) to 10%. Net metering is not going away.

3. If I go solar by (fill in the blank with a date), I will get a (fill in the blank with a dollar amount) discount.

Insulting. The money has to come from somewhere — the customer, ya think? — and it’s a common psychological sales tactic to employ discounts (buried in the price you pay) to create urgency. Don’t buy in to it.

RepowerYolo has had the fortune of helping more homeowners in our community invest in solar than any other solar company over the past few years. In so doing, we have not spent a dime on sales, marketing, advertising, etcetera … instead, the savings are passed on to homeowners via our group buy program.

So, there’s no urgency — i.e., soon-to-perish financial incentives -- to go solar? Not necessarily. The urgency we see is very straightforward: Once a homeowner is comfortable with the efficacy and reliability of the solar system, the quality of the installation contractor and their workmanship warranty, and the economics (investment and future energy savings), they proceed. After all — to quote many Repower homeowners — why continue writing checks to PG&E when solar is the right and prudent thing to do?

Solar solicitations

Dad, this is hilarious, my 16-year-old son chuckled. Check out this voicemail I got today on my iPhone: 

If you're a homeowner you should take advantage of this program. Your new solar panels will cut your electric bill in half. So, my job is just to inform you about the program and see if you meet the qualification. Okay?

Click. Fourteen seconds. No name, no company name, just noise. Hilarious (to my son), but annoying too for anyone on the receiving end. 

Another good solar sales solicitation story: In a two-week period, I had three solar salespeople (from three different companies) knock on my door. Their canvas-the-neighborhood pitch went something like this: Hello, my name is Joe, did you know you have qualified to have solar installed for free and slash your PG&E bill immediately?

Really, I'd reply, it’s that easy?

Yes. All you have to do is sign here and we take care of everything.

In each of the three cases — for hugs and giggles — I would drill down regarding the type and quality of solar panels and inverters, the term and strength of their installation warranty, the cost per watt, and whether I could own/purchase the system. Blanks stares/no responses to each question. Amazing.

But here’s where the chortling kicked in to full gear: I asked each salesperson to step out toward the street to take a look at the roof (of my one-story home). Clearly visible from Willowbank Road are two arrays of solar panels. We would then turn the corner and walk down Almond to view three solar arrays on our backyard-facing roof.

Oh. I didn’t know (read: take a peek at my roof).

And, the kicker: All three asked me if I was interested in adding more panels to my system. Kudos for their gumption.

Not that we (Repower) are nobel, but we do not spend a dime on sales/marketing/advertising. No cold calls, door knocks, direct mail, or radio advertisements. Instead, we pass the savings along to friends and neighbors in Yolo County. 

YoloShines: Repowering community organizations

When we conceived RepowerYolo, we made two conscious commitments:

1. We will not solicit homeowners. No advertising, cold calls, direct mail or commission sales people.

2. We will reinvest in and support local nonprofit organizations; in other words (excuse the trite phase), repower our community.

The obvious residue of not knocking on doors, cold-calling homeowners, or peppering mail boxes with sales collateral is that we will sell less solar. We can live with that, because we strongly believe markets are conversations and nobody likes to be solicited (sans their permission). And, by eliminating sales/marketing/advertising costs, we significantly reduce the cost of going solar for friends and neighbors.

Furthermore, many an eye has been rolled at our community fundraising efforts: Why are you donating large amounts of money to nonprofits (when you could/should be pocketing the money to send your kids to college)? In simple terms, we believe RepowerYolo is a community program and our commitment to — and support of — local nonprofit organizations is a community dividend.

This community dividend is growing. To date, we have donated upwards of $23,000 to more than 25 local causes on behalf of RepowerYolo homeowners. And, in 2016, we created YoloShines: Every time a homeowner goes solar, we donate $500 in their name to their favorite Yolo County nonprofit.

The first four recipients of YoloShines donations in 2016 are Progress RanchYolo Crisis NurseryDavis Schools Foundation, and River City Rowing Club. 2016 is off to a great start … the future is bright for both homeowners who go solar and nonprofit organizations that stitch the fabric of our community.

Community Choice Energy: Coming to Yolo County?

I’ve had the — sometimes frustrating, but ultimately rewarding — pleasure of working with a team of Davis residents to evaluate Community Choice Energy (CCE) for the city and county. Over the past year, our Community Choice Energy Advisory Committee has taken a deep dive into CCE: Does it make sense for our community and, if so, what’s the best approach? Last night we had a productive discussion with the Davis Chamber of Commerce's Government Relations Committee, and our committee is nearing a recommendation to the City Council.

In simple terms, CCE provides PG&E ratepayers with a second option for their electricity source. Competition — providing customers with options — is, of course, good for a market, particularly when the sole provider is a regulated, investor-owned monopoly. Under CCE programs, PG&E continues to manage the grid and deliver customer service. Status quo. Except, CCE (it’s happening in Marin and Sonoma Counties) reduces electricity costs for ratepayers while delivering cleaner energy.

CCE is not a slam dunk, here or elsewhere. Utilities will continue to fight to protect their entrenched monopolies. Ultimately, consumer choice is good … let the market work. And, if we can develop additional renewable energy resources locally (and keep the dollars here, versus filling PG&E’s pockets), our local economy will benefit.

You can learn more about the City’s CCE assessment here.

And, on Feb. 11 (6:30 at the Vet’s) we are facilitating a public forum to elaborate CCE and engage community input. Please join.

Or, of course, feel free to give us a call if you'd like to learn more.

Sacramento Business Journal profiles Chris Soderquist

[Originally published September 9, 2015]

THE GREAT Ed Goldman -- one of our favorite, iconic regional treasures -- recently sat down with Repower Cofounder Chris Soderquist. Here's his story:

Ed Goldman: Chris Soderquist’s newest (ad)venture: Sharing the sunshine

When scientists get around to studying the biological basis of entrepreneurship, Chris Soderquist will make a splendid case study: He seems to prove that it runs in families.

At 46, Soderquist is a former venture capitalist and a serial entrepreneur. He calculates he’s created “about a dozen” businesses and has been an investor or board member of “another 30 or so.” Restlessly intelligent (maybe even antsy), he appears to have settled into a single company that he loves: Repower Yolo, a Davis-based solar energy firm that in the past year-and-a-half has installed “more than 2,500 solar panels on 60 homes and 10 commercial projects,” he says, adding, “all in Yolo County.”

Soderquist is pursuing the venture with business partner and operations manager John Walter. Repower Yolo doesn't install solar systems. Rather, “I consult with the clients and tell them what will work for them and what won’t. Sometimes I talk myself out of a sale, but that’s a small price to pay for integrity.”

There’s a circular perfection to Soderquist’s latest passion. His dad, Charles Soderquist, was also an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who started amassing his wealth building and installing solar-powered hot tubs in Davis. Soderquist the elder, who died 11 years ago of an aneurysm, was also a philanthropist: he left the bulk of his estate to UC Davis.

I had interviewed Charlie Soderquist for my Working Lunch column in Comstock’s Business Magazine two years before his passing. He was a fascinating guy and Chris reminds me of him save for one attribute: while warm and soft-spoken, the dad had a somewhat dour, dark-ish aspect to him (possibly only with columnists) whereas Chris, despite being a serious man, has a lighthearted, almost impish quality.

He’s also, like his dad, a philanthropist, who donates money from every sale to one of 18 Yolo County nonprofits. While he says the principal motivation for doing so is “helping out,” Soderquist says, “There’s a kind of a domino effect at play. If we can re-power homes” — convert them from running solely on gas and electricity, “people will save money and will have more to spend in the community. There’s a lot of sunshine out there.”

And that, he says, “is the only positive thing about climate change I can think of. The less rain, the more sunshine, the more electricity we can generate. But I’d prefer it rained.”

Soderquist and his wife Karen, a manager at a medical software company, have two sons: Scott, who’s 16, and 13-year-old Ty. Perhaps because he majored in journalism at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo — he also has an MBA from UC Davis — he elects to help out his interviewer. “I’m pretty easy to summarize,” he says. “I’m a father, a husband, a Little League coach and the son of amazing parents. I got my work ethic from my dad and my loving side from my mom.” Yes, but that sunshine is all his own.

Ed Goldman’s newest book, “And Now, With Further Ado: More Gravitas-Defying Profiles and Punditry from the Sacramento Business Journal,” is available at Amazon.com.

Rest at Night, à l'Emily Dickinson

[Originally published June 26, 2015]

Happy Friday! Welcome to Repower's Friday Solar Poetry Corner. After all, in addition to being an extraordinary source of clean, affordable energy, there is a certain poetic element to solar. The Sun, so powerful and constant, well, Emily Dickinson pegged it in Rest at Night. Enjoy!

Rest at Night
The Sun from shining,
Nature—and some Men—
Rest at Noon—some Men—
While Nature
And the Sun—go on—
 

We’ve Repowered Our Visual Brand

[Originally published June 11, 2015]

We’re excited to announce that our new logo is ALIVE! James Goodchap of Goodchap Brand Identity developed our visual brand after a lot of careful listening and strategic thought. Fun was definitely something we wanted to convey. Local. Fresh. Community-based. And, of course, solar.

“The Repower team and I have a longstanding and rich history of working together, so there was already a high level of trust and an understanding of the caliber of thinkers with whom I was working. The brand visual identity had to be distinct, memorable. We were looking for something that had a level of energy and excitement and that reflected the sustainable technology at this pivotal time in our world, when we all must look after the planet. This project resonated with me. As a long-term bicycle commuter, I was thrilled to put my oar in the water and partner with Repower.”

—James Goodchap

Thank you, James!

A Solar Story that Began with Love

[Originally published April 23, 2015]

Richard Kaiser fell in love. Then he moved to Davis to be with his darling and her children. They lived in her home and decided to remodel the inside. In the throes of renovation, Richard bumped into his friend and Repower homeowner, John Mott-Smith, who suggested they go solar with Repower.

"I never talked with anyone else. I'd trust John with my life. And I know that he never wastes money. I don't have a bone to pick with PG&E, but I liked the idea of making our own electricity and saving money. The economics seem to work out.

"Repower's solar energy system installation process was a lot quicker than I expected. It was painless, quick, sooner-than-later."

Repower is community-focused. Richard's story illustrates just how powerful friends and neighbors can be. And this is exactly what energizes our Repower team.