With the economy in one of the worst downturns in recent memory, the opening of a new solar products manufacturer - with headquarters in Enterprise and manufacturing facilities in La Grande - is welcomed news.
Sun Storage, a new, renewable energy company started by two Joseph natives, will manufacture solar arrays, which come in pre-engineered packages. What makes the product unique is that the arrays are elevated off the ground for better solar access, and so that ground space below can still be utilized.
Partners Louis Perry and Jonathan Monschke have been working on prototypes, and developing the business model, for over a year. This past weekend, they officially launched the company at the Northwest Solar Expo trade show in Portland.
"We made some excellent contacts with potential industry partners," said Monschke. "They were excited about the product, and we're very optimistic."
Sun Storage began when Monschke and Perry, both graduates of Joseph High School, were talking about the downturn in the construction industry.
Both men had returned to the county after leaving to attend college. Perry is from a fourth generation Wallowa County farming family and owner of LD Perry, Inc., a general contracting firm. Monschke is the son of a former Wallowa County mill owner who had created a successful design/build firm on the Oregon Coast before moving back to Joseph.
They both wanted to find new ways to create opportunity, not only for themselves, but for others, including Perry's construction crew. To diversify his construction business, Perry had already taken part in some environmental projects, including working on the Enterprise School District's bio-mass system, and doing stream restoration and fish habitat projects for various private and government clients. Monschke had designed several custom homes that incorporated green construction practices.
The partners knew alternative energy was a growing area; but also knew solar power had limits, particularly in the way most solar panels are installed on rooftops. Not only does that often damage the roof, but a house or building often doesn't have the best orientation to the sun to make the most of its energy. Traditional ground mounted solar units have their own limitations, primarily that they take up valuable space and are vulnerable to the wind.
Monschke and Perry decided if they could create an innovative pre-packaged ground mounted array, then more people would install solar power. The two came up with the idea to design ground mounted arrays that are raised up in the air on an aluminum or steel structure, leaving the space beneath to be used for any number of secondary purposes, for example as a car port, cabana, lawn and garden equipment storage, or hay and agricultural equipment storage. The structures could be oriented on a property to gain the greatest solar access, and would be made strong enough to withstand high wind.
Monschke designed a series of solar arrays of various sizes, with the goal of making them architecturally appealing and affordable. Perry, through his construction business, knew where to find Oregon suppliers for some of the solar components they would need. But they also needed a manufacturing facility, preferably one who could do the steel fabrication, powder coating, and other work needed to complete the structures.
Perry called his friend Luke Barreto. Barreto 's father, Greg Barreto is the founder of Barreto Manufacturing, Inc., of La Grande.
"Barreto had excess capacity," said Perry, "and they were able to help us design and build our prototype."
"Barreto has everything we need," said Monschke. "They are a great company, with a talented workforce, high quality steel fabrication equipment, and a powder coating facility. They're a perfect fit for us."
"I'm very optimistic about Sun Storage," said Luke Barreto. "With the downturn, we've been doing more fabrication work. Sun Storage is helping us keep people busy and working."
Monschke estimates the company could employ several dozen people when in full production. "The demand for solar energy has never been higher," said Monschke. "And with so many tax credits and incentives for customers to access, it's never been more affordable."
The company has already provided income for several people who lost their jobs when companies shut down or they were laid off.
In addition, Sun Storage is working with a web designer, graphic designer, marketing consultant, printer and others, giving much needed contract opportunities in this slow economy. Sun Storage is also soliciting advice from another new renewable energy business, Renewable Energy Solutions, a Wallowa County-based consulting firm.
With strong support from Union County Commissioners, the men secured an industrial site by the Union County airport, close to Barreto's manufacturing facilities.
"We're very excited to see there are still people out there willing to take a risk and start a new company in these economic times," said Union County Commissioner Mark Davidson. "We applaud Sun Storage's efforts in using renewable energy, and in using all Oregon made components."
For more information on Sun Storage, visit www.sunstorage.org, or call 432-3090.