To help the company become established, and begin bringing in money, Lay merged his home security business with green building expertise of fellow owner Daniel Tolson and the electrical work of Michael Carpenter. Lay and others with the company have spent the last year receiving the necessary certifications, learning some of the installation side of the business.
Lay said there already have been inquiries from a Canadian company about purchasing the entire first run of 25,000 panels. He said interest in buying panels from an American company has been great in places like California, where he has spent time researching the process.
“It’s not a matter of if we’re going to sell them, it’s really who we’re going to sell them to,” Lay said.
Assembly involves attaching fragile photovoltaic cells to a glass surface and a laminating process to give the panels strength. Once the manufacturing operation has been established, Lay hopes to add another line and 30 more employees.
Eventually, Lay wants to start creating the cells in the plant and put in a school to teach installation. If this occurs, Lay said within five years he hopes the operation will fill the current building and possibly employ 300-500 people.
Although there currently aren’t significant state tax incentives for people to install solar energy, individuals can get a 30 percent federal tax credit for the cost of purchasing and installing a solar energy system, and businesses can get grants for 30 percent of the cost upfront.
Savings for the few customers already serviced have been great so far, with one customer in Versailles seeing a 45-percent reduction in electrical cost, Lay said.
The positive effects on an individual or company’s pocketbook should drive interest, but other benefits will be more long-term.
“There is probably always going to be a need for coal and other energy sources, but we have to be able to reduce the amount of strain we put on the grid,” Lay said. “Also, cleaner energy is just smart, and we are probably five years behind what a lot of the rest of the world is doing with technology like this.”
Jody Lassiter, president of Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership, said the business represents a big win for the community.
“This is a target market we want to capitalize on, and they are hitting the market at an appropriate time to be successful,” Lassiter said. “It is the kind of entrepreneurship we want to see.”
The effort to help get the business up and running, which Lassiter named “Project Sunshine” while it was being developed, began last year.
During that time, Lassiter said Lay demonstrated that the business plan was more than just a “dinner napkin” idea, securing investment and finally financing, no small task given the current economic climate.
The company already has secured state tax incentives for making the initial investment of $1.125 million and hiring a minimum of 13 employees, and Lassiter said local incentives also are planned.
There is still work to do to ensure the full economic and employment impact is realized, but the long-term benefits of having a company that is locally owned, backed and financed should be great.
“It is the best of all possible worlds,” Lassiter said. “When you have people making decisions in Eindhoven, Netherlands, which was the case with Philips Lighting (which recently announced closure of its Danville plant), it is not the same as when you have local ownership and leadership. This is a situation where you have people who want to see jobs created and want to see them stay here.”