Energetic effort: Ownership team grows at solar contractor

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The ownership team at Atlasta Solar Center includes, from left, Matt Fowler, Kevin Love, Lou Villaire, Teddy Aegerter and Chris Campbell. One of the longest operating solar contractors in Colorado, the 42-year-old Grand Junction company sells, installs and services systems across the Western Slope. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

The growing ownership team at Atlasta Solar Center expects to grow even more. In addition to adding two more partners, the team will offer purchase agreements to all the employees of the Grand Junction-based solar contractor.

Lou Villaire, one of five partners at Atlasta Solar, views the effort as a way to reinforce commitment and pride in a company that’s operated more than 40 years.

The moves come as business has increased along with demand for not only solar panels, but also electric vehicle chargers and power storage systems. 

While there’s heightened interest in solar systems because of their environmental benefits as a clean and renewable source of energy, Villaire says Atlasta sells systems as a way to save money on electric bills, an investment that provides annual returns of 5 percent to 10 percent. As utility costs go up and the price of solar panels comes down, the investment becomes all the more attractive, he says. Federal tax credits offer an additional incentive.

Villaire, Teddy Aegerter and Kevin Love bought out the ownership share of Darin Carei. Carei and Villaire purchased Atlasta Solar Center in 2012 from Virgil Boggess, who started the company in 1979.

Chris Campbell and Matt Fowler, two employees of Atlasta Solar, joined the ownership team.

Carei will serve as a consultant to the owners through the ownership transition. 

The five partners of Atlasta Solar bring to the operation a collective 70 years of experience.

Villaire, who serves as general manager, started working with Boggess 15 years ago. Love has worked 14 years in the solar energy business, first as an installer before becoming operations manager.

Aegerty and Campbell lead sales efforts, while Fowler manages marketing.

Atlasta Solar serves a geographic area that extends from Grand Junction south to Telluride and east to Glenwood Springs and Aspen. The company employs 25 people, four who work out of an office in Montrose. Villaire says the company is looking for a third location in Rifle. 

Atlasta Solar Center designs, sells and installs photovoltaic and thermal solar systems for residential and commercial use. The company also services solar systems, some of which have been in operation for 40 years.

Atlasta Solar installers are licensed electrical contractors who can handle all aspects of residential and commercial projects — something Villaire says differentiates the company from competitors.

Fowler says 2020 was a busy year for Atlasta Solar in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. Some people who spent more time at home began to pay more attention to how much electricity they use and how much they pay for it, he says. That momentum carried into 2021 

Some people who spent more time at home paid more attention to how much electricity they used and how much they paid for it, Fowler says. The momentum of 2020 carried into 2021 

Campbell says an increase in new home construction also has bolstered demand for solar systems. 

At the same time, though, some people have decided to remain in their homes and complete improvements them rather than buy another home, he says. Moreover, they’re looking for ways to reduce utility bills.

Still others considering where to invest their money have opted to purchase solar systems for the return they offer in reduced energy costs, Campbell says.

The rates utilities charge for electricity have increased about 200 percent since 1979, he says.

Still higher rates are coming, he says, in part because utilities will switch to renewable sources like solar energy. People who purchase solar panels can provide their own electricity from a renewable source at a lower cost.

Villaire says the price of electrical production from solar systems has dropped 90 percent over the past 15 years. Innovations in panels, as well as the computer software used to operate solar systems, have made the systems increasingly efficient.

Federal tax credits for homeowners and businesses purchasing solar systems also factor into the equation, Villaire says.

A 26 percent credit will remain available through the end of 2022, drop to 23 percent in 2023 and then end for residential systems, he says. 

Tax credits for commercial systems will drop to a permanent 10 percent after 2023.

In addition to the financial benefits of solar energy, Atlasta Solar has built business in a competitive industry through customer service and customer referrals, the partners say.

Atlasta Solar offers a complimentary solar site analysis — but no high-pressure sales tactics, Fowler says.

Campbell says customers usually communicate with the same person to complete not only design and sales, but also installation and service.

Villaire says the outlook for solar energy and Atlasta Solar Center remain encouraging. “We’re generally pretty positive about it.”

He credits the patronage and loyalty of customers over the years. “We are here because of our customers.”