Amanda Bybee, CEO Amicus O&M Cooperative
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In 2016, a subset of Amicus Solar member companies collaborated to secure a US Department of Energy SunShot Initiative award to launch the new Amicus O&M Cooperative. Their aim was to fill a specific solar industry need: providing streamlined, cost-effective O&M services to ensure that solar PV systems fulfill their performance expectations over the short and long term. Amanda Bybee serves as the CEO of the new cooperative. She has worked in the solar industry since 2003, first promoting renewable energy policy in Austin, Texas, while at Public Citizen, then moving to solar EPC companies. Bybee holds a BA from the University of Texas at Austin, and, through solar, has found her “inner engineer.”
SP: Before becoming the CEO of Amicus O&M Cooperative, you were the director of strategic planning and initiatives at Namasté Solar, a founding member of Amicus Solar Cooperative. How did you set your sights on a solar O&M strategic initiative?
AB: Fundamentally, I believe that solar is one of the key solutions to climate change. For it to be regarded as a reliable technology, it has to deliver on the promise that it will operate for decades to come. A lot of us in the O&M cooperative regard it as our moral obligation as industry professionals to make sure that the technology we install today does what it’s supposed to do.
O&M providers are among the key players that make that happen. In my history of working at EPC companies for the past 14 years, I have always found there to be an interest in diversifying revenue streams. Namasté Solar saw that potential a few years ago, when it first established its O&M department. In talking with some of the other members of the Amicus Solar Cooperative, we hatched this idea of creating a new cooperative that would be dedicated just to that.
In the last 10–15 years, it’s just been this mad race to build new projects, and O&M has not factored as heavily into the equation as it’s starting to. There are opportunities to create new standards, to become a lot more efficient and sophisticated in how we provide O&M services. That’s exciting to me, to be part of the development and to get to apply an entrepreneurial spirit to an underdeveloped part of the industry.
SP: What are the benefits of bringing the cooperative model to solar O&M? What do you think you can leverage from the existing co-op members?
AB: Namasté Solar is a huge proponent of the cooperative model, and it has quite a track record of spinning off new ones. Namasté Solar itself is an employee-owned cooperative. It co-founded Amicus Solar in 2011 as a purchasing cooperative. I’ve spent the last 2.5 years there helping launch a new financial cooperative, the Clean Energy Credit Union. It received its federal charter last September as a dedicated financial institution to provide financing for clean energy products and services. Midway through that, we applied for the award for the Amicus O&M Cooperative. It became my joke at Namasté Solar that whenever we encountered new business problems, our first question was, “Is there a cooperative for that?”
We believe that there’s an inherent benefit in cooperatives with the collaboration that they naturally foster, equal ownership and voting rights, and the shared risk and responsibility for all the owners. It’s just a better way to do business. It levels the playing field so that you have less hierarchical relationships than you have in the traditional subcontractor relationship, which leads to greater respect among companies.
One of our core values is fairness. We apply those core values not only to the members of the cooperative but also with our clients. We want to work with clients who understand that you can’t just push 100% of liability off on other people. Liability exists in this world. And we have to be respectful and responsible in how we apportion it.
SP: What are the benefits to a company in becoming a member of the O&M cooperative?
AB: One of the primary services that the cooperative offers is to create a central infrastructure that allows us to work together and provide coordinated services across the country. So for the last year, we’ve been putting together a library of legal templates that members can use with clients to hopefully cut down on the amount of time it takes to negotiate a contract.
Another big tool is the central software system to track work orders into a ticketing system. Everybody is using a central system that asks the technicians to fill out a common checklist, which captures a common set of information. Then it also generates standardized report templates.