Community solar gardens give consumers the option to pay for the power they believe in, and building the gardens helped Durango-based Konisto Companies grow 130 percent in 2016.
Moreover, the company expects growth to continue despite the changing political atmosphere.
Konisto was not alone in 2016, with the solar industry nationally nearly doubling its capacity for electrical production, a report by GreenTech Media said.
This was driven in part by the federal investment tax credit, which was scheduled to expire at the end of 2016. Through bipartisan legislation, Congress extended the tax credit for five years and it’s possible the industry may not need tax credits to drive growth after that, said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association.
“The days of big incentives, of big breaks are winding down because solar is competing on an economic basis more every year,” she said.
State mandates for solar power have helped drive industry growth as well, and she expects those to continue.
“States aren’t backing down on wanting clean air and clean water,” she said.
It is unclear how President Donald Trump’s policies might change the industry, because he has been vocal in his support for coal and other fossil fuels and promises to roll back the Clean Power Plan, which was expected to encourage investment in renewable energy.
While solar industry is slowing down and the U.S. is no longer the leader in solar installations, there is still strong demand especially for small projects, said Konisto founder Chris Sill.
Sill and Brad Blake founded the company in April 2014, when Sill decided to leave the general contractor he was working for. A core group of people working on solar projects left with him, meaning the group had contracts right away and expected to grow quickly.
The company employs 40 to 50 people directly and about 180 total. The additional people are hired to work on individual construction sites. Only about 10 people work in Durango, while the others travel the country working on construction, he said.
The company builds solar installations in California, Minnesota, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado Texas, Indiana, Mississippi and Kansas.
Sill enjoys living in Durango and chose to keep the company’s headquarters here, because like many people, he loves Durango, and the construction is dispersed across the country.
“The odds of doing a project in the same place twice is probably zero,” he said.
In the last few years, the company’s largest growth has come from community solar gardens.
Konisto contracts with private developers to build the projects, which are supported through private subscriptions.
There is no way to guarantee a homeowner receives power produced from the garden, but it is a more cost-effective option for them to support solar than installing solar panels on their roof, he said.
The company also builds projects for individual power-users, such as airports, warehouses and prisons.
These small projects can cut down on the price a business pays per kilowatt hour for power, especially if it can use solar power during peak electrical use time, when it can be more expensive to buy from a utility.
The company doesn’t do much marketing, because it is still a small industry within the United States.
“We just don’t have a lot of competitors,” he said.
The company plans to continue growing at about 40 percent a year, Sill said.