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20 Sep

Tom Cotter

published on September 20, 2012 - 6:32 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Tom Cotter
Regional Sales Manager
Real Goods Solar

What we do:  For 34 years we have helped home and business owners save money on their cost of electricity through solar.
Education:  I attended a private college in Joplin, Missouri where I earned a BA in education and a BA in Biblical literature. I’ve also completed programs at both UC Riverside in Geographic Information Systems and the Solar Living Institute in photovoltaics. I have or am currently taking online courses at Stanford, MIT and Yale. Learning is what keeps me motivated and sharp.
Age:  40
Family:  Married 16 years and have three children


How did you come to your position, Tom?
While volunteering as co-chair with the Fresno Solar Tour, I was invited to interview with our company. At the time, I was going through the Entrepreneurial Training Program at the Central Valley Business Incubator and working towards launching a business that would be complimentary for solar contractors that dealt with financing and renewable energy credits. I chose to start working as a solar power consultant and grew into my current position as sales manager.

How has the local solar market grown since you began with Real Goods Solar in 2006, Tom?
Solar power is flourishing in the Fresno region, allowing a changing demographic including businesses, schools, farms, retailers, public agencies and low- and middle-class homeowners to cut energy bills. Fresno ranks 5th in the state in terms of the number of solar installations on residential, commercial and government buildings, with just over 2,100 projects installed. The number of solar roof installations in Fresno has doubled in the past two years alone, thanks to third party financing and policies that promote solar power, like net metering. Our high cost of utility power and abundant sunlight make for prime conditions for a robust solar market. We’ve even had solar manufacturers from other countries come to visit Fresno to find out what is in our secret sauce of solar success. I got into solar right as that growth curve was spiking up not only locally, but around the country. It has been quite a ride helping people save money on their cost of power.   

A Real Goods Solar store recently opened up in Sierra Vista Mall. How has that been received so far, Tom?
One of the things I love about our company is the freedom to experiment and try new things. Sierra Vista Mall has been really fun to launch. We have free seminars and workshops that we lead at the mall. Some of our top selling toys, home goods and solar gadgets are for sale at the store. Homeowners can also set up an appointment for a solar consult to find out how much they could be saving on their cost of electricity. It has been fun for us to be out in the public every day and talk to shoppers about all kinds of questions. Sometimes people can catch me hanging out there, trying to resist buying a pretzel from the store next door.   

What are some of the different payment options Real Goods Solar offers to customers to make installing a system worth their while, Tom?
There are three ways to go solar: purchase, power purchase agreement (PPA) and lease. Our company is a bit unique in that we offer all of those options and have multiple choices within each option. An overwhelming majority of all the solar being installed in the valley is now financed through a PPA or lease. The best option is whichever one best meets the customer’s goals. The bottom line is that we have lots of ways to save people money on their cost of power through solar. The best way to find out about the details is to set up an appointment with one of our solar power consultants.        

You’re a vocal proponent of AB 32 measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions. How will these measures outweigh or justify the cost to businesses, Tom?
The Brattle Group analysis shows that AB 32 would cause small increases in the price of electricity, natural gas, and transportation fuels. The financial impact of these price increases on small businesses depends on the ratio of a business’s energy expenditures to its total revenues. This ratio can be affected by a business’s ability to respond to higher energy prices by conserving energy, investing in energy-saving equipment, or raising its prices.

On average, California’s 700,000+ small businesses currently spend 1.4 percent of their revenues on energy. As AB 32 policies are implemented, that figure would rise to 1.7 percent by 2020. This projection assumes that small businesses do not pursue incentives, rebates, and other programs that would help lower their use of electricity, gas, and transportation fuel. By investing in energy efficiency, most small businesses could lower their energy costs significantly.

Even if California’s small businesses do nothing to decrease their energy use through energy efficiency or other means over the next 10 years, they will likely experience only a small and manageable impact from the state’s policies to reduce global warming pollution. These policies would also enable California to benefit from the new technologies and jobs that characterize a low-carbon economy.

On the other hand, if global warming is allowed to continue unchecked, it is expected to cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century. California’s recreation, tourism, agriculture, real estate, and forestry businesses could suffer severe damage.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it, Tom?
One of my first jobs was at a gas station where I pumped gas, did minor mechanical work and had the official title of “Tire Repair Technician.” The station owner was a great old guy name Milt. I learned that building friendships with customers is good for business and makes work a lot more fun.       

What are your roots in the San Joaquin Valley, Tom?
My wife and I moved to Clovis in 1996. In 2006, when I was transitioning from a full-time ministry job, we could have moved anywhere. We chose to stay and invest in our community, even though the air was pretty bad. We share an optimism that rethinking and reimagining what some may accept as ‘the way it’s always been done’ can bring a better quality of life and potentially restore natural and social capital.


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