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Ithaca Week

Renovated facility to help local solar business expand

By Kristen Gowdy and Jenny Zdrojeski

After years of working in temporary offices, Ithaca-based solar company Renovus Solar officially introduced its new headquarters Sept. 23.

An open house, preceded by a ribbon-cutting, allowed customers to mingle with employees and view the new seven-acre facility. The 5,000 square-foot office and a 10,000 square-foot warehouse is located at 1520 Trumansburg Road.

The company had purchased the space in December 2014, moved into the remodeled warehouse — which was previously a chicken breeding factory — in April and began using the office Aug. 1.

For Joe Sliker, president and CEO of Renovus, the move to a more permanent location is an upgrade from the four downtown Ithaca locations in which the company used to operate. He said the new facility will allow for a more cohesive work atmosphere.

“It’s amazing how much our previous spaces hindered us,” he said. “Having everyone here, it’s just like, ‘Now we have desks. Now we have places to put people. Now we can actually grow.’”

Growth is another key component for Renovus as it moves into its new building. Over the past two years, the company has grown from about 12 employees to about 70, said Alex Hagen, vice president of the company.

This growth is partially due to the federal tax incentive that accompanies solar installation. However, Hagen said the price of solar installation is continuously dropping, and that the incentives are thus becoming less of a factor in Renovus’ customers’ decisions to purchase solar panels.

“It was a much bigger deal many years ago because the cost of solar was so much higher,” he said. “But recently, with the costs of solar dropping lower and lower all the time, the magnitude of the federal tax incentives is less important.”

Sliker said the building can handle another nearly 100 percent growth in the company, and that Renovus is looking to take full advantage of the opportunity to expand.

“We are going to make solar, and Renovus solar, the principal export of Ithaca, New York, to the rest of the world, right out of right here,” Sliker said just before cutting the ribbon on Sept. 23.

Sliker also emphasized that the demand for growth is there, even outside of the Ithaca community. But, he said, his company has no intentions of leaving the Ithaca area because there is still demand in the region.

This demand comes despite concerns that the frequent cloud cover and inclement weather makes solar power less effective in an area like Ithaca.

“The best way to look at it is when you look at the largest user of solar power in the world, it’s Germany,” Sliker said. “We have more than double their solar resource, and we have about two-thirds of the solar resource that you have in the deserts in the Southwest.”

Gretchen Herrmann, an Ithaca resident who has 42 solar panels on her barn and three solar thermals on her house, said she chose Renovus for its customer service and high quality products.

“They just seemed like the best,” Herrmann said. “I have a solar thermal, so they have to come and check out my tank every year. They’ve always been good.”

Customer service is another aspect that will be improved on and expanded because of the new building.

Operations manager PJ Beck said Renovus prides itself in its customer service — so much so that it has a ‘Customer Happiness’ division that dedicates itself solely to handling customer calls and inquiries.

“A lot of companies have customer service, but for us it’s really important that our customers are happy,” Beck said. “It’s something that we really stress internally.”

Customer Happiness is just one of the company’s divisions — which also include marketing, commercial, site evaluation, engineering and administration — that occupies a space in Renovus’ new building. The new office features an open-layout design and furniture handmade by one of the company’s employees.

Additionally, the building will be 100 percent solar powered by the end of 2015, Sliker said. The building is equipped with air-sourced heat pumps for heating and cooling and LED lighting. Sliker said fossil fuels are not used anywhere in the building.

For Hagen, the solar-powered headquarters is another way Renovus continues to serve its employees and its community.

“We’re invested in local jobs, we’re invested in supporting the local environment,” he said. “It’s very important to us to have a safe, healthy, enjoyable place to work, and that’s what we focus on.”

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