Splendid solar: Employees buy Valley Solar, aim to expand offerings, add staff

  • Garrett Williams, an installer, and Jakob Palches, construction manager for Valley Solar, put up racking for solar panels on a house in Bernardston. The company is under new ownership and is looking to expand. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jakob Palches, construction manager, for Valley Solar put up racking for solar panels on a house in Bernardston. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jakob Palches, construction manager and Garrett Williams, an installer for Valley Solar put up racking for solar panels on a house in Bernardston. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Valley Solar owners Patrick Rondeau, left, and Mike Hempstead in the office of their business in Florence. The former employees bought the company in August. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Steven Silverman, left, who owns Valley Home Improvement and Valley Solar, has sold Valley Solar to Patrick Rondeau, center, and Mike Hempstead. They are standing outside the business, Thursday, in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2020 1:03:00 PM

The future is bright for Valley Solar in more ways than one.

Under the leadership of new owners, the Northampton-based solar installation company founded five years ago as a division of Valley Home Improvement, is experiencing a growth period and plans to hire new employees — Valley Solar currently staffs 13 people — across different positions such as sales representatives and electricians.

“We’re literally taking in more work than we can build and we want to serve as many customers as we can,” says Mike Hempstead, who recently bought the company with co-owner Patrick Rondeau. Hempstead is the company’s president, while Rondeau serves as general manager. 

The new owners, who purchased the business for an undisclosed amount from Valley Home Improvement owner Steven Silverman, believe the solar market will only continue to grow as installation prices drop and electricity costs increase. 

“It’s difficult to say where we’ll be in the next five years,” Hempstead said. “We are growing rapidly and we believe the future of solar energy is limitless. The truth is that the cost of solar is coming down, while electricity prices go up. Our mission is to just hasten the adoption of solar energy by providing attractive and affordable solutions to as many customers as possible.”

Hempstead said Valley Solar’s price for home solar installations can range from $15,000 to $40,000, depending on the scope of the project and how many solar panels are being installed. That falls in line with the average cost of a home solar energy project statewide, which the Boston nonprofit organization Center for Sustainable Energy estimates at between $15,000 and $25,000.

“A good performance system will recoup 100% of its cost in about six years,” Hempstead said.

About two-thirds of Valley Solar’s customers pay for solar by financing with zero down payments. Residential customers also often take advantage of federal tax and state credits, he said. After 2021, federal tax credits are set to expire.

Experts agree that a solar project can save homeowners money over time, especially as electricity costs go up. National Grid customers, for example, saw their electricity rates go up 30% in November 201.

New owners

The chance to buy Valley Solar began taking shape earlier this year when Silverman approached Rondeau and Hempstead with an idea to give them a cut of the income the business was generating. Silverman said the two had been “instrumental” in the venture’s success, with Hempstead serving as a sales manager for two years and Rondeau as general manager since May 2015.

“When I presented them with a plan to cut them into more profits, they came back and asked the question if I would be willing to sell the division to them?” Silverman says. “I gave it a day or so thought and I came up with a price that we agreed on really quickly.”

The deal came together in August, but Rondeau says the idea had been germinating since the beginning of the year and the details were hammered out over the summer. Hempstead declined to disclose the purchase price.

“They wanted to invest in their future and buy the division from me,” Silverman says. “They basically have visions of a larger company that they plan to take further than I probably have the bandwidth to do on my own. I’m very excited for their prospects, our clients and all of our employees moving forward.”

Rondeau and Hempstead plan to continue Valley Solar’s mission to bring affordable solar systems to customers, while also growing the company.

Valley Solar has completed approximately 500 solar installations during the past five years, Hempstead said. The company’s field crew staff has doubled within in the last two years.

Hempstead said he and Rondeau believe that one of the reasons Valley Solar has been so successful since its foundation is its personalized service to customers. That’s why most of the sales for solar projects continue to be handled by both of them.

“We feel that the really important part is that we can have that control and personal touch with each and every client,” Hempstead said. “The other part of it is that originally as a division of a home improvement company, we have a very strong focus on craftsmanship. What I mean by this is the aesthetic quality and the workmanship that goes into each job. We understand that these are peoples’ homes and what’s important to them is that the job is done correctly and that it looks right. We really take the time to focus on how that’s going to play out on the job and make sure that we put in the extra effort to make that happen.”

Home batteries

The company is also invested in home battery systems as part of its future, he said.

“A lot of our customers are interested in energy storage and what I mean by that is home battery systems provide back-up home power and so we’ve actually identified that as a growth area for our business and we’ve become the number one dealer of Generac power systems in western New England,” Hempstead says. “…The idea of being helpless in a power outage is more concerning than before given the pandemic. People simply want to be able to stay safely and securely in their homes.”

The cost of home battery systems to consumers is about $2,000 to $4,000 after federal tax credits or state programs that cover up to half the cost of a battery for a homeowner, he said.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

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