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Solar company gets serious about Big Island market

June 2, 2014 - 12:05am

As more residents see the benefit of harnessing the sun’s rays, a solar energy company that bills itself as the largest in the nation is expanding to Hawaii Island.

The need for alternatives to high power bills, plus persistent sunshine and state and federal tax credits for solar projects work together to make photovoltaic options very attractive, said Jon Yoshimura, director of policy and electricity markets at SolarCity.

And with heavy competition between some 200 companies in Hawaii — and another 200 entities that provide services and supplies — the consumer has plenty of options, Yoshimura said.

SolarCity opened a 6,300-square-foot operations center in Kona a month ago in the Kaloko Business Park and is employing 12 people. With close to 200 projects in the pipeline, the company is hiring a coordinator and two installers and plans to add six to eight more employees by the end of the year, said Paul Maday, regional operations manager for Kona.

The company handles all steps of the process from design and permitting to installation and maintenance of PV.

“It’s busy, that’s for sure,” Maday said. “Sales are strong.”

SolarCity operates in 15 states and plans to expand to Asia within the year, Yoshimura said. The company set up operations in Mililani on Oahu in 2011, and had been flying a crew to the Big Island prior to last fall, when it made a permanent move here.

A 2012 SolarCity project is bringing 112 kilowatts of power to Kona International Airport’s wastewater system — one of eight of the company’s projects with the state Department of Transportation Airports Division that is helping nudge the state toward its goal of 70 percent clean energy by 2030. SolarCity has also been installing PV systems in military housing on Oahu, but the Big Island focus has largely been on the residential market.

“We look forward to establishing a strong relationship with the community and increasing our business within the residential and commercial sectors on Hawaii Island,” Yoshimura said.

SolarCity will be looking to hire salespeople, installers and electricians on the Big Island, Yoshimura said. The new operations center houses a storage facility, warehouse and business office. Along with solar power, the company provides electric vehicle and energy efficiency services.

“They’re good paying jobs with a good company,” Yoshimura said.

Most homeowners would like solar to meet 100 percent of their energy needs, Maday said, but roof space and other limitations typically put that out of reach.

“We’re usually able to cut a power bill by closer to 80 percent,” he said.

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