February 5, 2020 -There is synergy with the people of Cal Solar. And, after formalizing that connection through its worker-owned cooperative, Cal Solar has cast a wider, synergetic net through Amicus Solar Cooperative. Amicus Solar is a member-owned purchasing cooperative of over 50 high-quality, independent, values-driven solar energy companies in all 50 states, Washington DC, Canada and Puerto Rico.

CalSolar Co-Op Staff and Board Members Photo: Akim Aginsky

Stephen Irvin is president and CEO of Amicus. “I helped start a solar company very similar to Cal Solar in Colorado in 2005 with a college buddy and other friends, Namaste Solar” he said. “We started it as an employee owned business from the get-go. We believed in sharing the benefits and the risk and responsibility. We believed in that business model.”

Irvin said they didn’t know about cooperatives. They wanted to create a business that would promote the use of solar energy. A few years later in about 2009, very large solar companies, moved in. “They were very disruptive,” Irvin said. “They came in hot and heavy, and we were concerned.”

They wanted to keep Namaste Solar employee-owned.

“One way to do that was to tap the power of coming together with other companies for a common goal: Buying power.”

Amicus is a Latin word for friend. It is fitting for the mission to create a cooperative.

“We said, let’s create and own equally a purchasing cooperative,” Irvin said. “This business model is time tested and proven. The most common is Ace Hardware. It is the exact business model. Ace Hardware Cooperative.”

Ace Hardware stores are each independently owned and operated, and all are part of the Ace Hardware Cooperative. They pool their buying power to compete against the larger companies.

As a group, Amicus uses their collective buying power. Discounts get passed on to the companies in the co-op, such as Cal Solar.

“The goal is lowering the cost for their customers and puts more solar out there,” Irvin said. “It helps people go solar. And it’s helping Cal Solar stay independently owned and operated. Not to be rolled up into a bigger group. That’s the big thing it does.”

Solar financing

Reducing the cost of loans and financing also gets passed on to customers. “We say, Bank XYZ, we’ll bring $50M of solar loans to you, can you give discounts? Instead of one at a time, it’s sort of negotiated up front,” Irvin said. “Now Cal Solar has the ability to tap into this brain trust with Amicus.”

Working collaboration

There is also an app available to each company. “At any time an engineer can open the Amicus app to ask a question. They have access now to close to 4,000 solar professionals. Everyone helps each other,” Irvin said. “It’s classic cooperative. The more you give the more you get. Everyone helps each other out. Cal Solar answers questions as well. They’ve already been doing that. Cal Solar is almost 20 years old. The average age is16. Cal Solar has a lot of experience. And now they have the buying power and brain power of an enormous company with the benefits of staying local.”