Stephen Irvin, Amicus Solar Cooperative

A Progressive Model for Purchasing and Information Exchange

In the fall of 2011, Colorado-based Namasté Solar led the foundation of Amicus Solar Cooperative (amicussolar.com). The goal was to develop a new model for PV equipment purchasing that not only leveraged the collective buying power of independently owned installation companies throughout the US, but also facilitated the sharing of best practices and other information among its members. Stephen Irvin served as Namasté Solar’s chief financial officer before stepping into a dedicated full-time role as president of Amicus Solar Cooperative in 2012. Amicus currently includes 23 members, with 36 office locations in 20 states. Each member is an equal owner of Amicus, with 100% of the cooperative owned by its members.

SP: During your tenure at Namasté Solar starting in 2006, what were some of the major industry developments and trends that affected independent solar integrators?

SI: The largest impacts on independent integrators have historically come from local policy dynamics, access to project finance, and competition from large national solar integrators and developers. Like many integrators, Namasté Solar was focused on its local market. Our annual planning was by necessity always a function of local policy, and specifically what the utility incentive program was going to look like that year. Any changes proposed to our public utilities commission, or that the utility unilaterally enacted, would directly impact the future success of our company. I remember when we wrote some of the first power purchase agreements [PPAs] in Colorado. Once the PPA and third-party–owned [TPO] lease markets started to develop, we had a spotlight on the state, and the large integrators from California were here immediately. Our partnership with PPA and TPO lease providers was critical. Those who didn’t have access to project financing struggled. Many local integrators have had to close their doors over the years. In early 2011, our utility incentive program was suspended unexpectedly, and that really hurt all of us. Companies that did not have a deep enough backlog of sold projects to install had to close down. Likewise, when the larger California integrators came in with their lease offerings, it was very hard for those without a lease product to compete.

SP: What is your perspective on the growth of national integrators?

SI: In other service industries, we see national firms coexisting with local independents. We’ve all chosen at one point or another to go to either our local coffee shop or a Starbucks. Having that choice is important and needs to be preserved to ensure a healthy industry and economy. If the national PV integrators’ goal is to remove that choice, then our communities will be worse off. Future customers may not receive the same level of quality workmanship and customer service due to a lack of competition.

SP: What was the primary motivation behind the creation of Amicus Solar Cooperative in 2011, and what companies were involved?

SI: There were six companies at our inaugural meeting: GreenLogic, Hudson Solar, LightWave Solar, Namasté Solar, RevoluSun and Technicians for Sustainability. These companies laid the foundation for Amicus and outlined its business plan for the coming years. Amicus is a purchasing cooperative that is 100% owned by its member companies. There are more than 250 successful purchasing cooperatives in the US that provide aggregated procurement of electrical supplies, automotive parts, HVAC supplies, general hardware and lumber, for example. A few well-known purchasing cooperatives are Ace Hardware, True Value Hardware and Best Western hotels. Amicus has brought together a special group of like-minded solar companies that believe in the power of sharing best practices and pooling purchases to receive lower pricing on both the products we sell and the services we utilize. At the same time, Amicus offers vendors a preferential relationship with dependable customers, allowing those vendors to maintain or acquire market share in existing and emerging markets with minimal acquisition cost. It’s a benefit for both the integrators and the vendors.

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