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Jul
12
2024
Business

Yellow Springs resident and former Antioch College student Alex Rolland founded Village Solar in 2020 with the mission to provide sustainable solar power to the village and beyond. Here, Rolland stands by an Ohio first: a floating solar array atop a detention pond in Delaware County. (Submitted photo)

A bright future for Village Solar

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For the last three years, the sun has shone continually on Yellow Springs-based green energy company Village Solar Co.

Launched in 2020 by village resident and former Antioch College student Alex Rolland, with the mission to provide sustainable and reliable solar power to area residents and businesses, Village Solar has grown significantly since its inception.

In the past year alone, the homegrown company has successfully installed 15 residential solar arrays — totaling around 180 kilowatts — and has branched out into several large-scale commercial solar projects throughout Ohio and beyond. On top of that, Village Solar started 2023 with just three employees, and rounded out the year with 10 — nine of whom are Yellow Springs residents.

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And as Rolland told the News last week, 2024’s horizons look even sunnier for the solar company.

“Since day one, we’ve been here to help our communities — both big and small,” Rolland, 30, said. “The world is getting warmer, and we need to curb that.”

Rolland said Village Solar may be one answer to that tension between the big and the small — that is, working with both “the little old lady down the street” and large companies to answer the clarion call of impending climate catastrophe.

A life in the sun

Rolland comes by his passion for solar honestly.

He split his youth between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Mexico. As a teenager, he took on his first internship designing “off-grid” systems, and for his high school senior project, Rolland developed an insulated, passive heated solar cabin.

Upon landing in Yellow Springs in 2013 as a member of Antioch’s third returning class, Rolland naturally pursued an environmental track. While he was there, he helped local and college workers erect the one-megawatt, 3,300-panel solar farm along Corry Street.

“Antioch had commitments to the environment that were in line with what I wanted,” Rolland said. “It was prudent to study there — and the full ride was hard to turn down.”

Rolland eventually left Antioch to work for Soveren Solar in Vermont — a small company that pioneered a number of community solar initiatives in that area. After some time and some extensive travels, Rolland returned to Yellow Springs and began working with local solar outfits, Miamisburg-based Solar, Power & Light as well as Yellow Springs Solar.

“Then in 2020, when the pandemic hit, I decided to roll the dice and start my own company,” Rolland said. “I wanted to see if I could do things a little differently. I had learned that the solar market is plagued by bad players — used car or knife salesmen just trying to sell you something no matter the quality or cost.”

He added: “I wanted to create a business based on accessibility, to be able to accurately explain and portray the technology, and to give pricing that’s fair — all the while still valuing my eventual employees to a degree that the industry, with all its turn-over, does not.”

Village Solar lights up

Rolland’s first solar project with his newly minted LLC was in Hillsboro. He offered a resident a better deal than what had been proposed, and despite some pandemic-related setbacks, successfully built his first array under the Village Solar banner.

“And it’s still running great today,” Rolland said proudly.

Village Solar took on steam from there. Several other area residents “put their faith and trust” in Rolland to install more and more home solar arrays. He and his small team branched out into subcontracting for other energy companies.

According to him, it was in 2022 when Village Solar Co. really took off. He poured much of his early-year earnings into advertising with 91.3 WYSO, and from there:

“The phone just started ringing off the hook,” Rolland said.

It was also in 2022 when Rolland moved his company’s headquarters out of his Fairfield Pike home and into a space in the Millworks industrial park on Walnut Street. He had been storing excess panels, inverters, rails and other materials in his yard; Millworks provided convenient dry storage. Now, Rolland said, he’s aiming to convert his space in the industrial park into more of a storefront and office.

“By and large, I go to customers — I have to check out their home, roof conditions, electrical layout and more to give an accurate proposal,” Rolland said. “But a storefront was borne out of necessity. I want to create a nexus for our team to work more coherently together, especially as our team has grown and I’m delegating more work.”

The milestones just kept coming in 2023.

Earlier last year, Village Solar was contracted by TMI, a large electrical company in Cincinnati, to kick off the construction of a 1.8 megawatt array for R.A. Jones, a packaging company in Covington, Kentucky. According to Rolland, that meant installing about 3,200 solar panels.

Later in 2023, Village Solar partnered with Appalachian Renewable Power from Athens, Ohio, to build the state’s first ever floating solar array — composed of 2,700 panels and able to generate 1.5 megawatts — on Delaware County’s municipal water supply.

“There’s nothing like it in Ohio, and barely anywhere else in the world,” Rolland said.

According to him, the floating array concept is a “win-win-win.”

“The panels don’t take up arable farm land or compete with any other land uses; they cover the water and keep evaporation down, while also reducing algal growth; and the water cools the solar panels down, which increases their efficiency,” Rolland said. “In areas like this, where there are no other uses for that space, it’s just perfect.”

Village Solar continued working with Appalachian Renewable Power later last year to help construct a 34-megawatt array in Columbus — this time, at a scale of 66,000 panels, estimated to power 14,000-20,000 homes.

These productive partnerships led Rolland to reimagine his company’s place within the local industry.

“We’re trying to get a solar consortium model off the ground — something where providers like us can all be underneath an umbrella with a centralized business hub,” Rolland said. “By leveraging the collective resources from multiple small players in the industry, we can make a bigger impact and pursue more large-scale, industrial projects. And while these big, commercial projects may not help the individual directly, they can help us reach global decarbonization at a much more rapid pace.”

For the coming year, Rolland said his prerogative is to continue doing more to offset large-scale carbon emissions by improving the mode of commercial energy use.

“The scales are completely different on that level, right? So, rather than providing solar for just ten homes, we can, with these large arrays, provide energy for tens of thousands of homes,” Rolland said.

While Rolland is keeping his eye on the big picture, he said he’s not losing sight of what — and who — is right here, in Yellow Springs.

Rolland said he’s proud of the 10-person Village Solar team he’s grown. For him, thoroughly training his employees in the industry’s technicalities has far-reaching, long-term benefits.

“Not only am I trying to bring back some high-quality jobs and opportunities in Yellow Springs,” Rolland said, “Beyond that, I believe one of the most useful things I can bring into the industry as a whole is strong training — getting my employees up to speed, encouraging them to grow and hopefully, eventually, creating a strong solar workforce throughout the state.”

It’s not just his employees Rolland is looking out for. There’s still the “little old lady” down the street in Yellow Springs.

“Retaining our residential focus is crucial,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s what I got into it all for: to help people emancipate themselves from their electric bills that are just getting higher and higher every year.”

He continued: “There’s huge economic power in having your own solar. When I put solar on my house, I paid nothing for electricity for the whole year. At the end of it, the Village sent me a check for $35. It was phenomenal.”

To learn more about Village Solar Co. and the services they offer, visit their website at http://www.villagesolarco.com.

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