Plans first purpose= built net zero building in Wallowa County
By Kathleen Ellyn
Wallowa County Chieftain
Wallowa County and Northeast Oregon is sprouting solar installations at an amazing rate — and Enterprise Electric has plugged in to the trend.
Beginning in 2008 when multiple renewable energy incentives were introduced at the federal, state and local level, Enterprise Electric and Rental saw potential. Now, they’ve been named one of the top solar contractors in the United States by Solar Power World magazine, ranking 488 out of 500 solar companies. They ranked eighth in the state.
“We’ve done everything from a 1 KW to 100 KW on the new Enterprise Christian Church and all sizes in between,” said co-owner Jared Hillock. “We get commercial and residential contracts, and we’re pretty much the largest solar installer this side of Bend and definitely in NE Oregon.”
The family-owned business has come a long way since John Sr. and Ida Hillock (Jared’s grandparents) purchased the business in 1970. John Hillock Jr. and Jared now own the business.
The 1,200 square-foot shop on Joseph Highway was purchased in 1994. It was clearly too small in 1995, Jared said. They kept growing, adding solar installation in 2008. Today, solar accounts for 25 to 35 percent of the business.
“We’re working from Ontario to Hermiston and Echo to Milton Freewater, Pendleton and La Grande. Next week we’ll be in Pendleton all week doing a new Facility for Agricultural Resource Management building at Blue Mountain Community College. Wellens Farwell is building it, and we got the solar installation on it.”
Business has picked up for public projects since new construction is required to have 1.5 percent of the project costs go to renewable energy, Jared said.
“That’s what got us into La Grande and Pendleton this year. We also did the new Central Elementary School in La Grande,” he said.
Residential solar projects also continue to shine. The company is booked for solar installations through the end of the year.
Jared says that’s because of customer satisfaction.
An average installation on a home is a 6.5 kilowatt system — not enough to get you “off the grid” but the most bang for your federal, state and local credits and incentive buck, he said.
A 6.5 kw system makes about $65 a month in electricity. During the day when the solar array is making power, a Pacific Power meter runs backward. At night when drawing electricity from the grid, credit is used.
The cost of an average solar array is $18,500, but there is a one-time 30 percent federal tax credit (approximately $5.500), a $6,000 state tax credit and a $1,800 rebate from Energy Trust — the organization that disperses incentives paid by Portland Power and Pacific Power.
That incentive may be changing, which has Jared concerned. The federal tax credit is still available until 2019, but the state legislature failed to renew the state credit for 2018. The rebate from Energy Trust is tied to the market, so the more people take advantage of it, the lower the rebate becomes.
“At the start of the year, that was about $3,000 and now it’s down to $1,800 due to demand,” Jared said.
The solar system Enterprise Electric installs is turn key — hooked to the Internet and monitored online by Enterprise Electric. They can see how every single solar panel is performing at any time. If a panel is bad, it will light up the monitoring equipment, and Enterprise Electric will “jump up on the roof and check it out,” Jared said. That’s part of the service, free for the life of the system.
“It couldn’t be easier from a customer’s point of view,” Jared said. “We do all the tax credit application and incentive paperwork, too. All we need is a signature.”
Even with the concerns over lost state tax credits, Enterprise Electric is sold on renewable energy and it’s place in Northeast Oregon. So sure that they’re betting on it by building a new shop across the street from Carpet One in Enterprise on Hurricane Creek Road.
“Right now, solar is 25 to 35 percent of the business,” Jared said. “It’s allowed us to add an employee — it’s definitely benefited us and the community. Everybody loves their solar. Getting that first bill greatly reduced — everybody seems pretty excited about it.”
So, the Hillocks are building a 10,000 square-foot building that will be the first purpose built net zero building in Wallowa County.
The whole roof will be covered with solar panels, it will have ground source geothermal heat pumps, it will be “super insulated,” and it will have a high-efficiency heating system.
The benefits will be felt county-wide, Jared said.
“We’ve got more employees than we’ve ever had. My brother Andy joined the business on Monday. That makes 10. That’s crazy. And we’ll have to hire more people when we get the new shop built (by next spring),” he said.