Energetic enterprise: Combined operations offer energy efficiency and solar power

Atlasta Solar Center
Darin Carei, left, and Lou Villaire are among the new owners of Atlasta Solar Center in Grand Junction. Carei also owns construction and energy auditing firms and expects the operations to fit together well. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Darin Carei couldn’t be happier with the way things are coming together for his business operations in the Grand Valley.

Carei runs a construction company that builds energy efficient homes. He’s also part owner of a company that offers energy conservation ratings and certifications and conducts audits that help customers save energy.

The recent acquisition of a third company that sells and installs solar energy systems completes what Carei expects to be an energetic enterprise in every sense of those words. “We’re looking forward to creating a real synergy with each other,” he says.

In fact, Carei envisions building an entire subdivision of homes that not only meet Energy Star standards for energy efficiency, but also come equipped with photovoltaic panels that generate electricity. “It’s a really unique product for Western Colorado. Nobody’s done it.”

Carei joined with three employees to purchase Atlasta Solar Center in Grand Junction. The ownership group also includes Mac Lewis, Lou Villaire and Andy Whipple. Virgil Boggess, a pioneer in the solar energy industry in Colorado who founded Atlasta Solar in 1979, plans to retire.

Carei says he’s known Boggess since the early 1980s and has talked with him in recent years about the possibility of buying his business. “The timing was right for me, and the timing was right for him.”

The timing was right in another sense given the increasing demand for more energy efficient homes and solar power, Carei says. “The timing of this really pulls the three businesses together. It’s a really good fit.”

Carei owns Senergy Builders, a Grand Junction firm that builds single- and multi-family homes in Western Colorado that meet Energy Star standards. He’s also part owner of EnergyWise Companies, which provides a range of services related to energy conservation.

Carei says he’s considered adding solar power sales to the mix for about five years, but didn’t want to start a new venture.

Atlasta Solar constitutes not only an established business with a 33-year track record, but also offers a competitive advantage in offering a range of product and services, he says.

In addition to photovoltaic systems tied to the power grid, Atlasta Solar installs photovoltaic systems that operate independently of the grid as well as thermal systems that heat homes and water, he says. Smaller photovoltaic systems for recreational vehicles and campers also are available. The business operates a showroom to display various products.

What excites Carei most about the acquisition, though, is the full range of services his business operations now offer and the relationships between those operations.

In addition to helping customers conserve energy and reduce utility bills, those businesses also will be able to sell and install solar systems that generate electricity.

As a builder, Carei expects to construct new homes that not only meet Energy Star standards for energy efficiency, but also offer photovoltaic systems.

In fact, Carei says he’d like to construct a new subdivision of homes along D Road in the Grand Valley that offer Energy Star ratings and solar systems. The only question, he says, is whether or not he can achieve that goal at a price point of under $200,000.

Even if homes aren’t initially equipped with solar systems, they’ll be wired to accommodate those systems at a later date, he says. “They’ll be solar ready.”

Third-party arrangements in which companies and organizations pay for the purchase and installation of solar systems and home owners lease electricity generated by those systems could help, Carei says.

Such arrangements make the savings associated with solar energy more widely available with no up-front costs, he says. “It’s a real win right now for consumers. They can do it right away with savings right away.”

Utility rebates and federal income tax credits offer financial incentives for installing solar systems. But Carei expects savings to motivate customers as prices for solar systems continue to decrease even as utility rates increase.

“Pretty soon we’re going to find that solar can stand on its own two feet.”

Meanwhile, Carei remains happy about the combination of products and services his three operations now offer. “It is exciting.”