Gaia Energy Systems is celebrating 20 years of business here in Willits. The solar energy company was founded by Hardy Kuenzl in 1994 and has flourished ever since. Kuenzl travels the world sharing his knowledge on solar energy and is highly regarded in the solar energy community because of his expertise, said his wife and co-owner of Gaia Energy Systems Kate Collins.
Willits and Mendocino County have always been on the forefront of solar power. Thirty years ago Willits was the solar power hub of the country and still today with John Schaeffer’s Solar Living Institute just a stone’s throw away in Hopland, the area has remained a central location for the solar power industry. The use of solar energy is so prominent in Mendocino County because of the large off-grid population, said Collins.
“2013 was a challenging year across the board. The large players have had a big impact on our companies, and not a good one,” said Collins. Recently, Collins has seen a number of out-of-town solar energy trucks and is concerned on the impact these outsourced companies are going to have on the public market. “One of the things we focus on is quality of product; all solar is not created equal. We don’t have a cookie cutter approach to design and we want to work within each person’s budget,” said Collins. “My idea of being local is where I work, is where I spend my money. People can get everything they need right here We have all of these little companies that do all of these really amazing things right here in the area,” said Collins.
Gaia also has an off-grid specialist, Alex Aragon, and they do commercial jobs, such as the local schools, said Collins.
Another focus of Gaia’s is education. Collins visits local schools and provides education on the importance of renewable energy and the solar industry. With two children of her own, Collins wants to ensure a positive future for the future generations, she said.
Gaia Energy Systems currently employs 16 people with hopes to grow larger and provide more employment opportunities; “As a small community, jobs are really vital and we want to stay in Willits to provide for the community,” said Collins. Kuenzl, who has lived in the area for 25 years, and Collins, for 10 years, have both fallen in love with the area and the Willits community. “It used to be my vacation spot, but I love it,” said Collins.
Currently, Collins is working on setting the community up with electric vehicle charge stations. One of the major challenges for electronic vehicle owners is the inability to find charging stations for their vehicles, especially on long road trips. Collins believes that the charging stations will give passer-bys yet another reason to stop in the community of Willits once a by-pass is place. “We need people to have a reason to stop here; EV could be a way,” said Collins. “It’s another service we would like to be able to provide to the community.”
Gaia Energy Systems is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or an appointment can be made by calling (707)456-0881.