Saturday, February 4, 2012

Vet Hopes Solar Puts Area to Work

Charles Byers, a disabled service veteran, has began a solar-related business he believes will help create a little more work in the mid-Hudson Valley.

Byers, retired from the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant commander, founded Pleasant Valley Energy LLC with a goal of putting solar-power ideas to work and making a new career for himself.

The U.S. government’s program for assisting disabled veterans includes set-asides in its contracting for goods and services in which a portion is intended to go to veteran-owned firms. Byers intends to bring a chunk of that work, and money, into the area through his venture.

He has secured a five-year contract with the federal government that makes his company a channel through which the military and federal agencies can purchase a product for which there is, he says, a growing demand. It’s solar-powered roof ventilators.

To actually make the products, he set up a deal with Newburgh-based Active Ventilation, owned by brothers Ethan and Martin Kolt. The connection was made through The Solar Energy Consortium, based in Kingston.

“We estimate the first year sales at $100,000, second year, $500,000 and third, $1 million,” Byers said.

Byers retired from the Navy in February of 2007 and set goals for himself to try to start a business in New York.

“I have a passion for renewable energy and energy technology programs,” he said. He took schooling in the subject through Solar Energy International for a year and a half and went looking for work. He did some consulting for Consolidated Edison and then started his company. In November, his application for a contract was accepted by the Government Services Administration and got hooked up with New York state’s Office of Governmental Services to be able to sell to state agencies.

The actual fabrication of units at Active Ventilation has been ongoing for several years.

Martin Kolt said he and his brother, Ethan, are following in the footsteps of their father, Stanley Kolt, who founded the company as a sheet-metal shop and retired last year.

Martin Kolt said they got into the solar vent business “almost by accident,” but it turned out to be a good move.

A military architect called them several years ago and asked if they could make a solar fan.

“I said, ‘Sure, we can.’ But I had no idea what it was,” he said. But with a little tinkering, he hooked up some parts. “It worked great,” he said.

The model was shipped to the military and orders followed.

Now, Martin Kolt said, they expect that the deal with Pleasant Valley Energy will provide an additional channel for the product to be purchased for government uses.

It could be “a lot of additional business,” he said, and that will lead to adding more workers at the Newburgh plant, which now employs about 25. They’re hoping to eventually double the workforce.

Ethan Kolt, whose background is mainly in sales and recruiting, sees solar strengthening because of its economic advantages.

“We find that solar residentially is catching on. The trend seems to be slower commercially. Solar is definitely something that is strengthening beyond what I thought it was going to be,” he said.

Ventilating a home’s attic to rid it of summer heat that can reach far above the outside temperatures reduces the inside temperature and eases the load on expensive air conditioning, he said.

“If your attic temperature can drop 40 degrees Fahrenheit, that heat load is being removed,” Ethan Kolt said. “The load off your air conditioner will be phenomenal.”

Because most models run on the sun, no electricity is needed. However, they also make models that are hybrid, using sun when it’s out and electricity when it’s not.

The company makes numerous models from four inches to four feet in diameter with a variety of colors to match roofing. Some are sold through Home Depot.

Byers’ company has another solar product that’s unusual and that he will have fabricated at the nonprofit Mid-Hudson Workshop for the Disabled in Poughkeepsie.

It’s a solar walking stick that puts out a bright, broad light from 60 LED chips that are powered by backpack-mounted solar cells that charge batteries that go inside the stick. His list price is $370.

Called the Eagle Scout, the stick “illuminates the trail at night” and can also light up a campsite or tent. Production is about to start and he is trying to market the product to large distributors.

The proceeds of sales will go to a village in Africa — Nkporo, Nigeria, a development project of the African Women Economic Consortium to provide a home for women and orphans and raise the standard of living.

Byers’ role is to help with renewable energy sources for the project.


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