Posts

Why We Became a Certified B Corp

Third Sun Solar is proud to be a certified B-Corp, a designation awarded by an outside nonprofit organization to businesses “who meet the highest standards of verified, overall social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.”

Many folks ask us why we submitted ourselves for consideration, seeking to learn if it was purely for altruistic reasons, or if there were practical considerations as well. While we have run our business for “People, Planet and Profit” since our start in 2000, it was certainly still a hurdle to becoming formally certified by an outside organization; the process included time and resource-consuming logistical challenges, such as officially changing our LLC operating agreement to state that we must manage our business to serve people and the planet in addition to seeking profit. Since our first certification in 2012, we have since undergone recertifications as well as a random audit.

So why all the effort? There are many reasons, but these primary themes stand out:

Optimization

At Third Sun Solar, we use this word to describe the engineering and design choices we make as we come up with the best solar solutions for each customer situation. In our early days, I personally selected the best combination of inverters, panels and racking for each project, and spent a lot of time running the numbers and comparing the different options to arrive at an “optimal” solution for a customer’s goals. Today that work is carried on by our expert team, but I still apply that approach to running the business. I am analytical and curious by nature—running Third Sun Solar with my team involves hundreds of choices and decisions. With a focus on our mission, “To empower people to save the planet with clean energy”, we have concluded that focusing on a ‘triple bottom line’ (social, environmental, financial) is the optimized way to achieve that mission.

Differentiation

When we launched Third Sun Solar at the end of the 90s there were hardly any dedicated businesses focused on solar solutions. Today, solar customers have many choices, each promising that they are “the best”, “high quality”, etc. While Third Sun Solar’s long industry leadership helps us stand out from this crowd in many ways, we decided that achieving B-Corp certification would go a long way toward further distinguishing us as a leader. Our B-corp status is another way of showing we are fully committed to the highest quality and safety for our clients, our employees and the greater community (AKA our PEOPLE). Those who already do business with us can see firsthand that we’re trustworthy and honest; our B-corp status proves we stand up to rigorous scrutiny regarding our environmental practices (AKA our PLANET). While it is pretty easy to recycle cardboard, we go way further, including a 100% solar net-zero office, carbon-offsets for our driving, and even composting our kitchen scraps. By contrast, some of our supposedly environmentally-driven competitors don’t even recycle!

Competitive

One of the most important reasons we have become a Certified B-Corp isn’t altruistic at all. Like all for-profit businesses, we’re striving for a significant competitive advantage over our competition (other solar companies) as solar achieves its destiny as the preferred energy form in homes and businesses (AKA our PROFIT).

We’re also engaged in a “war for talent”. Third Sun Solar is primarily successful because of our people. Though we gain market advantage in areas ranging from internal software to low-cost purchasing through a co-op, at the end of the day the most important factor in our success and growth are the people on our team. From the first phone call or email communication to all of the human interactions along the way, and finally to the crew bolting equipment together and programming the electronics, our people are at the root of our success. Based on that understanding, we believe that recruiting, retaining and motivating the very best team members is our “secret sauce”. In this context, our B-Corp certification gives us a significant advantage (invisibility and attractiveness to high-quality candidates as well as employee satisfaction and retention), and it is one that we are glad to have.

Before founding Third Sun Solar as a business, I worked for several nonprofits in the social sector (focused on Appalachian poverty and affordable housing), along with my time in a government agency (the US Peace Corps). Those were formative experiences, and I have a lot of respect for many great people and programs working to solve big problems and make the world better through these sectors. I also have seen (and sadly continue to see) the destructive nature and short-sightedness of many conventional businesses, especially the largest of corporations where the conventional practice (and the legal requirements) focus only on immediate profit and only profit. The B-Corp movement is an effort to change this. Third Sun Solar and many other mission-driven businesses are harnessing entrepreneurial energy and drive to solve social and global problems that have vexed the nonprofit and governmental sectors for decades.

We are in the midst of an experiment and are excited to be part of a movement that takes the best of capitalism, creativity and market forces in an effort to use business as a positive force for social good.

Local Solar Business Leaders and Veterans Call on Sen. Portman to Grow Ohio’s Clean Energy Economy & Support the Clean Power Plan

 

 

Support the Clean Power Plan

Columbus, OH – On Tuesday, September 22, solar business leaders Geoff Greenfield and Mathew O’Brien of Third Sun Solar, solar homeowner Dr. Matthew Taylor and veteran Allen Zak urged Senator Portman to start voting to support the Clean Power Plan because of what it means for the booming clean energy economy and national security.

The Clean Power Plan was finalized on August 3, and puts in place the nation’s first ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants while providing incentives for investments in wind, solar and other sources of clean energy.

“Make no mistake, climate disruption is a national security matter and poses grave threats to the economic stability of all American families,” said veteran Allen Zak. “That’s why it’s time for all of Ohio’s representatives in Congress to tackle the climate crisis and support the Clean Power Plan.”

Power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States– responsible for 40 percent of the dangerous pollutant being pumped into our air. Carbon pollution fuels climate change, which the Department of Defense last year declared to be a “strategic threat” with major security implications for the United States.

Despite the fact that a majority of Ohioans support the Clean Power Plan, U.S. Senator Portman has voted against a burgeoning Ohio clean energy economy and clean air in Congress multiple times. That includes by introducing an amendment that would enable states to scrap the protections of the Clean Power Plan.

Congress has a key role to play in providing funding for all Environmental Protection Agency programs, and Senator Portman can show his support for the Clean Power Plan in the future by ensuring that the resources necessary for this program are secured in full.

“Taking action on climate provides Ohioans opportunities to use cleaner energy, grow our economy and protect the health of our families,” said Geoff Greenfield, President of Third Sun Solar. “We urge Senator Portman to start voting in support of the Clean Power Plan.”

Also See:

Department of Defense sees Climate Change as strategic threat: http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/612710

Majority of Americans support the Clean Power Plan: http://aufc.3cdn.net/9cce54755ec7d79594_tvm6ib002.pdf

 

 

 

 

Third Sun Solar President to Speak at Ohio Conservation Forum

Third Sun Solar to Speak at Forum Designed to Explore Solar’s Future in Ohio

Third Sun Solar president, Geoff Greenfield, at the Athens Public Library. (Photo courtesy of The Athens News)

Third Sun Solar president, Geoff Greenfield, at the Athens Public Library.
(Photo courtesy of The Athens News)

 

Athens, OH– Third Sun Solar’s president and co-founder, Geoff Greenfield, will be speaking at this year’s final Ohio Conservation Forum, this Friday, December 19th.

The forum will explore Ohio’s current energy situation with a look back at the history and impact of solar in the state, as well as discussing what the future holds for renewable energy in Ohio.  The forum will feature a panel of solar professionals, including Greenfield, as well as a guest from Green Energy Ohio, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting environmentally and economically sustainable energy policies and practices in Ohio.

The event will take place at 1 p.m on December 19th at 1404 Goodale Boulevard, in Columbus. Those who are interested in attending are asked to RSVP to mattnisenoff@ohioconservation.org.

This symposium is a part of the Ohio Conservation Forums, an event put on by the Ohio League of Conservation Voters. The forums seek to stimulate education and discussion by joining experts with concerned citizens to discuss environmental and sustainability topics pertinent to the future of our state and its people.

SB-310 Darkening Ohio’s Energy Future

Ohio poised to slide into the dark on its energy policy

By Terry Smith, Athens News, May 7 2014

The state of Ohio is poised this week to continue its gleeful slide into backward, reactionary energy policy, with a state Senate Committee expected to approve an amended Senate Bill 310.

This bizarre back-pedaling is happening as most of the rest of the nation and world have accepted both the intrinsic good of ratcheting back on dirty fossil-fuel-driven energy, and the economic opportunities that come with promoting energy efficiency and a shift toward green alternatives such as solar and wind.

Before an amendment proposed Wednesday, S.B. 310 would have frozen at their current modest levels energy efficiency and renewable energy standards and benchmarks passed nearly unanimously by the Ohio Legislature in 2008. It would have canceled the 2008 legislation’s progressive stair-step of benchmarks ending in 2025. Sub. S.B. 310, unveiled Wednesday after negotiations with Gov. John Kasich’s offer, doesn’t appear much better.

It’s the predictable result of the intersection of flat-earth-society climate-change denial – now a firm plank in Republican ideology – and electric utilities and major manufacturers (or deep-pockets outside groups that support them) who are eager to contribute to state legislators who will promote and advance the doomed cause of fossil fuels. In fish-bowl Ohio, they’re all swimming heartily against the historic and scientific tide, as well as a growing business segment in advanced and alternative energy.

YOU SEE THE SAME SORT of willful resistance to reality and good government in the Ohio General Assembly’s refusal to consider raising oil and gas severance taxes to levels even approaching what they are in other frack-heavy states such as Texas and West Virginia.

The latest version of a severance tax bill in the Ohio House of Reprentatives has a top rate of 2.5 percent, which represents a compromise between Gov. Kasich’s proposal for 2.75 percent and the House’s recent proposal for 2.25 percent. It’s similar to a compromise between Bud Light and Miller Lite, basically no compromise at all.

The House Republicans had resisted Gov. Kasich’s proposal, which was still less than half of what drillers face in Pennsylvania. In West Virginia, the effective rate is 11.3 percent.

As an April 27 editorial in the Columbus Dispatch pointed out, “Kasich’s proposed severance tax could double in size and still be under those of Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Michigan, Arkansas, Texas and West Virginia – in the case of the latter four, well below.” (It should be noted that the Dispatch‘s editorial board is arguably the most conservative of Ohio’s major dailies.)

While comparing the severance taxes from state to state is difficult (the taxes are structured in different ways), no matter how you drill it, the 2.50 percent compromise proposal for Ohio is much lower than the tax in other states that Ohio is supposedly competing against to lure oil and gas drillers, entrepreneurs and investors.

Yet, there’s no public clamor to open up the state’s oil and gas sector to all comers, nor is there any groundswell for doing away with incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Meanwhile, there’s growing public recognition of the environmental hazards of industry run rampant, especially with regard to fracking and its resulting waste disposal.

SENATE BILL 310, AS EXPLAINED in an April 4 op-ed by Jereme Kent in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, have frozen freeze in place the renewable portfolio standards and energy-efficiency standards set in Ohio’s 2008 energy policy bill. “This would be the first time in any state, anywhere in the entire United States, that a renewable portfolio standard would be reduced, frozen or repealed.” (Kent is general manager of One Energy LLC, a Findlay company that helps industrial energy users explore the use of wind energy.)

The amendment to S.B. 310, released Wednesday, would replace the permanent freeze with one lasting two years. As Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, explained in the Columbus Dispatch, a special committee, with six House members and six senators, would determine whether to make other changes to the energy rules during the two-year freeze, and recommend resulting changes, if any, to the General Assembly. If lawmakers do not set a new energy course during that time, annual increases in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources – as set in the 2008 energy bill – would re-start in 2017 and continue until 2027.

In the widely supported 2008 bill, the General Assembly required utilities to take three steps to slow the growth in spiraling electric rates: 1) achieve savings of 22 percent by lowering electric consumption through energy efficiency by 2025; 2) achieve a 12.5 percent integration of renewable energy into the state’s electrical supply by 2025; and 3) achieve a 12.5 percent integration of advanced energy (cleaner and higher-efficiency forms of conventional technologies). These goals would be achieved through regular benchmarks up until 2025.

Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, introduced S.B. 310, and reportedly was responsible for the amendment proposed on Wednesday. It should be noted that the top two campaign contributors to Balderson in 2012, after the Republican Senate Campaign Committee and Ohio Republican Party, were FirstEnergy Group, one of the main advocates of S.B. 310, and American Electric Power, donating $12,500 apiece. Balderson’s 20th District includes the very northern part of Athens County.

In an article in the March 28 Plain Dealer, Ted Ford, CEO of the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy, predicted, “If enacted, Senate Bill 310 will systematically dismantle Ohio’s clean energy law, which was reaffirmed and improved in a comprehensive energy policy bill (SB 315) enacted by the legislature and signed by the governor just two years ago. This radical departure will devastate the advanced energy industry in Ohio, which includes more than 400 advanced energy businesses, employing over 25,000 Ohioans.”

Ford followed up Tuesday evening with an equally negative response to amended S.B. 310. “It is a very bad bill that is, in some ways, worse than S.B. 58 and S.B. 310. None of the proponents of the current (from 2008) standards were involved in shaping this ‘compromise.'” Ford urged other advanced-energy companies, the public and stakeholders to heavily lobby their senators and the governor against the substitute bill. “It is another attempt to take Ohio backward. It will destroy jobs, raise electricity costs, and put Ohio in a poor competitive position.”

In an email Tuesday before the Senate released its compromise to S.B. 310, Geoff Greenfield, president of Athens-based Third Sun Solar, predicted that retreating from the state’s current energy policy will cripple the growing solar energy industry in Ohio.

“If SB 310 went forward as written, it would make the economic payback for solar longer and harder to finance… Passing this law as is would probably cut in half the number of residential customers that go solar… Many would still do it even though the payback is slower,” he said. “For business customers and large projects, it would be devastating and probably shut down 90 percent of the projects, as these are much more financially driven. If this law passed as is, we (Third Sun) would stop hiring and growing in Ohio and focus on other states.” He didn’t appear to be any more impressed by the substitute bill released on Wednesday.

DEFENDERS OF S.B. 310 SAY the measure would protect Ohio electric energy consumers from the high costs of complying with standards in the 2008 energy legislation. In an April 12 op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch, Sen. Balderson claims that the 2008 energy standards were “fabricated to conform with a catchy gimmick or slogan…” Later in the opinion piece, he asserts that his legislation will allow Ohio’s energy policy to be “based on what evidence and science tell us, not the exaggerated rhetoric, slogans or how the political winds blow at a particular time.”

Anyone familiar with the rhetoric of climate-change deniers will see some of their rhetorical flourishes in Balderson’s vague references to gimmicks and slogans gussied up with a gratuitous fealty to science. That’s their perverse way of casting doubt on the overwhelming global scientific consensus that climate change is happening now, is getting worse, and is mainly caused by human-kind’s burning of fossil fuels.

Plus, as critics of S.B. 310 have pointed out and the utilities themselves have admitted, money spent on energy-efficiency standards will recoup twice as much in savings.

If Ohio wants to continue sliding backward into the darkness, while its elected representatives happily collect rent from the fossil-fuel and electric utility industries, and their allies in the dark world of Koch, it makes perfect sense to double down on coal- and gas-fired electric power and flea-market-level severance taxes for oil and gas.

One might hopes, however, that Ohio citizens would have a different idea and show it at the ballot box.

Geoff Greenfield on Diane Rehm Show

Diane Rehm Logo

On Wednesday, June 5 Geoff Greenfield participated in a segment of the Diane Rehm Show (national NPR, WOUB in Athens, Ohio). The segment topic was “America’s Energy Future Beyond Oil and Gas” and the participants included Christine Todd Whitman of the CASEnergy Coalition, former governor of New Jersey and former administrator of the EPA; Rhone Resch of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA); Robert Gramlich of American Wind Energy Association; and Coral Davenport of National Journal. The full transcript is available here.

REHM

All right. To Athens, Ohio. Good morning, Geoff.

GEOFF

Hi. Good morning, Diane.

REHM

Hi there. Go ahead, please.

GEOFF

Thanks, Diane. First off, I’m a big fan, and thanks a lot for focusing your show on this important subject.

REHM

Indeed. You’re welcome.

GEOFF

So 14 years ago, we started Third Sun Solar. We’re a solar company here in Ohio. We’re what you’d call an installation business. We work on residential rooftops and commercial buildings across the Midwest. Right now, it’s a beautiful sunny day here, and our crews are out on the job today building clean power plants and earning a great living. So these are the jobs that really can’t be shifted overseas.

The part of the solar value chain that has to be local is on the rooftop and out in the solar, you know, field. So I’m wondering why we don’t hear as much about this incredible opportunity for economic development and job creation that solar and wind power present.

REHM

Rhone.

RESCH

Well, there’s over 120,000 people employed in the [solar industry in the] United States today. And the great thing about solar, you create more jobs per megawatt than any other energy technology out there. So you really have a confluence of both energy policy, environmental policy and economic policy when you’re growing the solar industry. And as Geoff points out, these are small businesses, right?

These are the backbone of our economy. These are roofers, electricians, plumbers. But those were let go by the housing industry starting a new business. You know, Third Sun Solar is a great example of somebody coming out of the housing and electricity industry and creating a solar business that’s thriving in creating jobs.

REHM

And you’re listening to “The Diane Rehm Show.” Gov. Whitman, you wanted to say something.

New York Times article: Solar panel quality concerns

Regarding the New York Times article of May 29, 2013 by Todd Woody entitled Solar Industry Anxious Over Defective Panels, our response at Third Sun Solar was a mix of frustration and ‘we told you so.’ Since 2000 we’ve been cautioning our customers and prospects—individually and in public forums—that solar is a young industry with newcomers jumping in every week. Newcomers as in new installers, new manufacturers, and new customers. We have pushed for standards and best practices. And we’ve cautioned our customers against seeking out lowest-price solutions—because, as in that age-old wisdom, you get what you pay for. In the case of PV solar, you are putting an electrical generating plant on your roof or grounds—one that should produce expected levels of clean energy for 30 years. That is not the place to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

We have advocated for strong solar industry standards and adherence to best practices. We’ve seen ourselves under-bid and undercut by impossibly low prices, and wondered: how can so-and-so build a quality solar installation that cheaply? Well, again and again we’ve found, they can’t. At least, not if the word quality means anything.

Here is a rough outline of what we have been advocating for the emerging solar energy industry since our founding in 2000. In light of The New York Times article on solar panel quality, we renew our call for the solar industry to grow up and adopt strict standards and best practices:

  • We have always had a policy against beta testing on our customer’s dime. Case in point, we steadfastly avoided using Solyndra panels even when they were “the next new thing” and many of our customers were asking for them. We said no—they are unproven, and the company making them is too new and likewise unproven. The failure of Solyndra gave solar opponents some great talking points and the industry a black eye.
  • Whether it be micro-inverters, the latest shade tolerant inverter, thin film laminates, or locally manufactured racking, whenever any new product comes out we have advised our clients to try to see beyond the marketing claims and search out truly independent, objective test results. Unfortunately, in this rapidly growing industry these are often hard to come by.
  • We have long advocated for strong industry standards and institutionalized best practices.
  • We have encouraged our employees to become NABCEP certified. NABCEP certification involves an incredibly rigorous regimen of training and testing. NABCEP certificates are the “gold standard” of expertise in the solar industry.
  • Our founder, Geoff Greenfield, was a member of the very first NABCEP graduating class. Geoff now sits on the NABCEP board of directors.
  • We have always been honest with our customers in pointing out the fact that no industry standards yet exist for making energy performance projections. We deliver very conservative projections for the systems we design and install.
  • We have always been honest with our customers in pointing out that no industry standards exist for assessing, quantifying and publishing the long-term viability of major components. A 25-year warranty requires 25 years to be proven out. That said, we conduct our own research and carefully select major components that we feel will serve our customers best, and thereby serve our company best in the long run. We studiously avoid low-cost “solutions” because, in our view, they guarantee downstream problems.
  • We employ trained, experienced installers and enforce a high degree of oversight.
  • We partner closely with other industry veterans to ensure we learn from their mistakes.
  • We sought out and achieved certification as a SunPower dealer. SunPower manufactures the most high-efficiency solar modules in the world and their products consistently rank among the best for quality and durability. What’s more, SunPower inspects our installations after completion to ensure we consistently meet their standards for quality design and construction.
  • We have repeatedly advised our customers not to use lowest-cost equipment. When initial price is the sole deciding factor in who builds a project, we often lose. Those are projects we do not want to build.
  • And we provide a ten-year warranty on our installations to cover the possibility that, after all of our care and due diligence, we too could make a mistake.

We understand the risks inherent in any rapidly-growing industry. Customers need to minimize risk in moving toward clean energy, and the best way to do that is to find a trusted design/install firm with a long, positive track record of successful installations. Making purchase decisions on a 30-year product based on lowest initial cost is not necessarily the best way to go. The Times article illustrates just how important such considerations can be for a young, emerging industry.

Third Sun Solar has not used components from a single one of the companies implicated in the article—and, we agree fully with the final words of the piece: “It’s time to start naming names.”