Our 20 Year Celebration!

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.

Solar Leasing vs. Buying

Installing solar panels has become popular and might be right for you. Whether you are looking to lower your utility bill, reduce your carbon footprint, take advantage of rebates and incentives, or make a sound investment.  The big question that everyone asks themselves when they are thinking about installing solar panels is, “How can I pay for this?”  In earlier years, the only option was to purchase a solar photovoltaic (PV) system outright with money from savings or a home equity loan.  However, additional options are available that can make adding a solar PV system affordable for almost everyone.  Programs like the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP) work with residents of Sonoma County to offer Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing for a variety of water conservation, energy efficiency or generation upgrades with no upfront costs.  Another option that is gaining in popularity is leasing a solar PV system; some solar companies offer this as a financing option.  This leads to the question “Should I lease or buy solar panels”?

If you find yourself asking this very question, here are some things to consider.

• Are you concerned about being responsible for any maintenance or repairs?

• Do you want to receive any rebates or incentives yourself?

• Do you have the ability to pay for a system outright, either through savings or financing?

• Do you plan on staying in your home or moving in the next few years?

How you answer these questions can determine what option might be best for you.

Solar panels are mostly maintenance free other than keeping them clean, but should something happen to them a leased solar PV system would be the responsibility of the leasing company.  With a purchased solar PV system the responsibility is with the owner.  However, most solar panels carry a 25 year performance warranty and most solar inverters carry a 10-25 year performance warranty.

When it comes to incentives and/or rebates, the option you have chosen will determine who receives the credits.  If you have leased your solar PV system, the incentives/rebates will go directly to the leasing company.  However, if you have purchased your system either outright or with financing the incentives/rebates come to you.

Can you pay for a solar PV system outright?  As the costs of purchasing and installing these systems drop in cost, purchasing them outright is becoming easier and easier.  However, not everyone wants to pull money from their savings account to do this.  That’s where financing comes in.  Programs like SCEIP offer residents an option to purchase solar PV systems with no upfront costs and a quick turnaround time.  Other options include going to your bank or credit union and obtaining a home equity loan or line of credit.

How long will you stay in your home?  Either way you choose to pay for your Solar PV system, it will increase the value of your home.  With leasing you are essentially paying to use the equipment, and if you sell your home the next owners will have to agree to pay for this equipment too.  If you have purchased your system outright, the increased value of your home goes straight to you.

When it comes down to it, there are pros and cons to either way you choose to pay for your solar PV system.  In the end, if you’ve decided to go solar then you will be lowering your utility bills, contributing to a greener environment, and reducing your carbon footprint.


Solar Action Alliance has created the Certified Local program to identify and brand local solar and energy-efficiency contractors.  The Certified Local (CL) brand gives property owners a means of easily identifying local contractors and service providers, with the goal of encouraging them to choose local businesses for renewable energy and energy efficiency applications large and small.

The Certified Local program is focused on benefitting the local community through increasing local job growth, keeping tax revenues local, increasing profits of local businesses that are more likely to spend locally, encouraging local businesses to purchase from each other, and promoting environmental sustainability – doing business locally means fewer miles driven and reduced emissions.  Less travel time also translates into lower overhead expenses for businesses, leading to increased profits.

Local energy businesses interested in pursuing Certified Local designation may contact Solar Action Alliance for an application and more guidelines.  The program is expected to roll out in December 2013.

With Fall here and the weather turning colder, now is the time to make sure that your home is working for you, not against you.  There are several quick projects you can do in a weekend to make your home more comfortable for the upcoming winter months.  Not only will these projects increase your comfort, they will also help lower your energy usage and utility bills.

• Heaters will soon be warming up our houses all over Sonoma County on cold and rainy days.  Make sure they are working as efficiently as possible by replacing their filters every 2-3 months.

• Weatherizing your home by caulking and weather-stripping any leaky doors and windows will help keep heat inside and cold air outside.

• Letting the sun warm your house is free.  Allow solar heating by opening the shades and curtains on the south side of your home during the day, and close them at night to help retain heat.

• Keep your thermostat set to 68 degrees (and 60 degrees at night, if you have a programmable one).  For every degree that you lower your thermostat you will save about 2% on your heating bill.

• Don’t let warm air escape out your chimney; close the fireplace damper when the fireplace is not in use.

• You can save money on your utility bill by turning the water heater down to 120 degrees.

If you’ve already done these steps and you want a closer look at how efficient your home is, SCEIP’s free, online Action Plan tool is your next step.  Click here or call the staff at Energy Independence at 707-565-6470 to find out how PACE financing can help you upgrade your home.

New Hampshire, USA — In honor of Labor Day in the U.S., here’s an update on where clean energy jobs are popping up. More than 38,000 U.S. jobs will result from five dozen “clean” energy and transportation projects announced from April-June of this year, spanning energy generation, manufacturing, transmission/smart grid, energy efficiency, and public transportation, according to a report by nonprofit group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). That’s up slightly from the same period a year ago (37,400), and triple the job announcements from the first three months of this year (12,000).

State: California
Rank: 1
Projects tallied: 12
Clean energy jobs from projects in operation: 4,383
Clean energy jobs from projects in progress: 1,050
Clean energy jobs from projects announced: 3,736
Total: 9,169

Read more here…

Or a (really hot) day in the life of the power grid

An update for July 18th, which ranks as the #8 peak demand day in New England history is below…

With a heatwave settling across the northeastern and midwestern United States, electricity systems across some of the nation’s most densely populated areas strained to meet peak demands today, sending power prices spiking.  Read more here…

Net metering or power purchase agreement? It depends on the customer and utility, but a study of North Carolina commercial customers finds that selling the PV generation yields the best savings, thanks to onerous net-metering charges. By Kacey Hoover  Read more here…