Flying into the Rogue Valley you can catch a view of the rooftop revolution alive and well in Southern Oregon! Homeowners and local business owners have moved forward to place their votes for a future with solar independence. In today’s interview I speak with Eric Hansen, owner of hometown favorite in commercial and residential solar installation, True South Solar.
Eric, hello and welcome back to LocalsGuide!
Thanks Shields, it’s a pleasure to be back. We’ve reached a lot of readers with these interviews and we really appreciate what your publication’s done for us. I also want to thank the Southern Oregon community for all their support over the years. Together, we’re making Southern Oregon more sustainable.
Over the past eight years we’ve followed your story closely. True South Solar has been at the forefront of the rooftop revolution here in Southern Oregon. Please give us a little overview of the journey the company has made.
Yes, what a fun adventure it is. I started True South back in 2010 with Shawn, Jacob, a handful of off-grid jobs, and the goal to put solar on every rooftop and create the best jobs ever. Now we’re the largest solar contractor in the area and have “solarized” hundreds of homes and business. We’re also a company 18 strong with living wage jobs and good benefits that support healthy lifestyles. And we’ve seen the technology grow up in efficiency and down in price. Along the way we’ve made a lot of friends — I can’t go to the grocery store or to a community event without running into a solar client.
True Solar has always been very mission driven and I think it has really captured the imagination and support of our community.
Absolutely! We are driven to create a great company that creates living wage jobs, while bringing the best solar has to offer. Our mission is “Solar on Every Roof and Best Jobs Ever!” We strive for excellence and have been fortunate to have attracted customers and team members who share our values. Together we are making the change.
Aside from your customers, your team has been instrumental in helping to mobilize to meet the public demand. How have you gone about finding the best people to work for True South Solar?
That’s so true. The team makes the dream come true. We’re really picky about who we choose to bring into the company. Luckily, the right people come to us at the right times. We’ve been smart enough bring them on board and then get them the right jobs. Most of the time it’s obvious where people will shine the brightest.
I met my partner Shawn Schreiner back in 2003 at a Bioneers conference. At the time he was on a cross-country tour in his veggie powered truck with his wife shooting photos for Mother Earth News. When they landed in Southern Oregon to start a family I asked him to help me build my straw-bale home. From there I brought him on as a solar apprentice where I was working. He’s a good friend, and super smart with a background in construction management so it made sense to bring him on to start True South. I had no idea how complex it would be to start this business and had no idea how much would be involved on the sales side of things. Shawn stepped up to figure out our sales division and now manages our pricing, our team of solar consultants, as well as all the goals and trainings that go into a successful sales team.
Ry Heller joined a few years later after moving back to Ashland from Eugene where he’d just worked on SeQuential Biodiesel Fuel’s new solar-electric system. Ry is a super-good installer and crew leader but also a very smart system designer. He’s not building systems too much anymore because he’s wrapping his head around our complicated commercial jobs. Soon after Ry joined he brought on his childhood friend Oshia Golden to work with us, who’s now got his LRT solar-electric license and crushing it out in the field. Mike Goglin, another installer on the team, is a rafting friend of mine that got the solar bug and asked to join the team. He’s close to getting his license too and crushing it in the field. Both Oshia and Mike are blast to work with and customers enjoy them on the job too.
Both our crew leaders Lance Aryeff and Josh Neale came to us at the right times and helped grow our installation teams. Josh moved here from North Carolina with years of solar experience. He documented his work and was able to challenge the Oregon LRT and test into a license. He recently got married and they took a sabbatical to ride bikes across New Zealand together. Lance’s been working as a licensed electrician in Ashland for years and has always loved solar. In fact, he tried to get into solar years ago before there was full-time work in the trade, but the timing wasn’t right. When he heard we needed to grow our installation teams he jumped on board. His Journeyman’s electrical and life experiences have shaped him into a great team leader and now he’s our Field Manager.
Shaun Franks is a true solar activist and community leader. He came to True South having recently won solar installations for the students at SOU. We’re lucky to have needed him in sales at the time he graduated and looking for a job with us. Now he’s our Marketing Manager. Last year he had a $100,000 marketing budget to spread around the community and working with dozens of organizations to get the word out and support them. Together Shaun and I work on solar policy in Oregon and hope to help bring about more positive changes in solar throughout the state.
When we needed an Office Manager our friend Beth Nolan was looking to take on a new challenge. Beth came to us with Institutional Health Care Management experience, love for the environment, and a curiosity for solar. Beth’s human resource skills, and detailed oriented traits have served our staff and clients really well. She came into our organization during a huge boom and manages to keep everything from solar module inventory up to staff reviews on a timely schedule.
The rest of the team rounds out the organization: Matt, Samantha, and Preston continue to sell solar with honesty and integrity. Sonia keeps the permits flowing through all of our jurisdictions. Dan, Noah, Stan, and Michael keep the schedule flowing with top notch installations. Together we’re a great team and I could not be prouder of our work.
Eric, I’d like for you to really break down the success of progress of True South Solar so that we can really understand the scale of size and progress you guys have fulfilled here in Southern Oregon.
• 2011 — 21 Installations, 139 kW, 3 Employees
• 2012 — 20 Installations, 106 kW, 5 Employees
• 2013 — 46 Installations, 221 kW, 6 Employees
• 2014 — 69 Installations, 411 kW, 8 Employees
• 2015 — 100 Installations, 661 kW, 10 Employees
• 2016 — 137 Installations, 934 kW, 16 Employees
• 2017 — 162 Installations, 1,218 kW, 20 Employees
That’s 560 customers and 3,809 kW of installed solar! That 3,809 kW of installed solar is equivalent to:
• 5,173 Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide
• or Driving 12,679,825 Miles
• or Carbon Sequestered by 6,093 acres of forests in one year
You’ve also grown into a new commercial space and poised to top records of growth larger than any previous year.
There have been a lot of changes this year and we hope that we continue to grow at a record setting pace. Surprisingly to some, commercial solar is on the rise in Oregon. We track the number of cash incentive reservations for both commercial and residential; and commercial is on the up-tick. The new Federal “tax reform” bill helped stimulate the activity with its accelerated depreciation. Those tax advantages coupled with the lower costs of commercial solar has stimulated a lot more of activity in the marketplace. We saw this coming down the pipe and added a commercial focused sales person to handle to volume. So far, so good, and our commercial work on the books is already breaking records this year.
Year after year the message has been sent that now is a great time to go solar. Is that still the case?
Yes, now is the time to go solar. You can reduce your energy bills, earn a great return on investment (which you won’t get by staying just with your utility company), and protect yourself against rising energy costs. There is still a thirty percent federal tax credit and even cash incentives from the utility.
So much of your business depends on real analysis and data verification. What peace of mind has that brought you despite changing times in our world?
We verify, count and measure continually. We are always looking for the best prices and products in the market and despite everything solar is here to stay and will be instrumental in the sustainable future of tomorrow. The world is changing no doubt. Outside politics, the technology is in the hands of the people. Unfortunately, the conversation is more damaging than the reality. The reality is that the numbers are still great.
Please talk more about the evolution and accuracy of your estimating process.
We set up a free consultation where we will do a shade analysis, look at the existing infrastructure, examine utility usage, and really listen to the goals of our customers. We are real data people, driven by numbers and we are always looking to get the most out of any system. The Darex Corporation is a great example. We installed a large system in 2010 and in a recent analysis, the system had exceeded our estimates. They are now considering a new 100 kW installation because we hit the mark!
Eric, what do you see has given True South Solar your unique advantage here in Southern Oregon?
We lead with the best. We hire the best people and install the best products. This strategy has worked for us and we continue to train the high caliber people we already have.
True South Solar is servicing both Residential and Commercial markets here in Southern Oregon. What have been some inspirational projects you have recently worked on?
The Ashland Food Coop Barn is a real inspiration to us. They are prioritizing green energy and continue to expand their use of solar power. The Talent City Hall installation was another amazing project that leveraged Pacific Power’s Blue Sky Grant to acquire solar power for their community.
I imagine that landing large commercial projects can often times be competitive. What aspects should be considered when looking at multiple bids between vendors?
Not all solar is created equal; that goes for solar panels and solar contractors. The questions I would ask are: What is the contractor’s level of expertise? Are they licensed and insured? Do they have a good track record? What’s their reputation in the market? What kind of equipment do they use?
Eric, tell us about your customers.
We love our customers! Our customers are the best to work with… We love the fact that we have a product and service we all can believe in. We are working for the shared goal of a better world and that feels good.
Once a solar system has been installed customers love showing it off.
Absolutely! It inspires others and fuels the rooftop revolution. It’s wonderful to see Facebook comments where customers are bragging about their solar output. “Another Net 0 Day” – This is the customer’s (and a solar contractor’s) dream.
Word of mouth referral has been a huge asset for True South Solar. Please say more.
More than half of our business comes from customer and contractor referrals. We thank our customers for this. We spend less on advertising and more on customer support and building our great company.
Eric, can you share some recent success stories with us?
We recently landed our first installation on Southern Oregon University. Having the opportunity to install solar on my Alma Mater is very exciting.
As you continue to grow the company forward into the future, what will you strive to bring to life in True South Solar?
This spring, we hosted our first youth build workshop with Talent Maker City. It was a blast to bring solar education to youth right here in our community. They learned about electricity, how to install solar on a mock roof and we were able to power a small television hooked up to an Xbox. We look forward to bringing more of these opportunities to our community.
True South Solar not only exemplifies a great business, but an amazing community of individuals who go above and beyond to work for a better future. Please say more about this.
We are a family; we hang out together, bike to work, and are working for a shared goal. Sure, we have a business and jobs to do, but I think as a whole we still prioritize the human element.
How do you see the solar industry as a whole continuing to evolve as we move forward into the future?
We see solar as becoming more lean, mean, and mainstream. We hope that Oregon will begin to incentivize solar again and the that the Federal Tax Credit gets extended. Either way solar is here to thrive.
You guys are hosting a special event for the entire community. Tell us about it.
Eric, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us today.
You’re welcome. Thanks for spreading the word about True South Solar and we’ll see you on the rooftop!
True South Solar
125 Clear Creek Dr.
Ashland, OR 97520