“You can get a little lost if all you care about as a business is the profit and loss.”
– Markus Virta, Western Solar
Our team has been fortunate to work with incredible partners on this project, and in this second installment of our sponsor interviews I sat down with Markus Virta of Western Solar. Through this interview, I wanted to learn what brought Markus to our project and how it fits with the work of this regional solar installer.
“When I started with Western Solar in 2010, we were installing at $10 per watt. The price is now at $2.40 per watt.” This immense price drop in solar is reflected across the renewable energy spectrum, and it speaks to the excitement and possibility that ZeNETH is trying to showcase. As the joint manager of Western Solar and Director of Sales, Markus relies not just upon the enviable cost reductions to sell solar, but also upon developing authentic connections with the employees and customers of Western Solar. “One thing that Eric Blatz [operational manager of WS] and I talk about is how we’ll look back on our lives in business. We know that we’re judged by how we treat our customers and employees. That’s why we offer the benefits and wages we do. I believe good jobs are absolutely necessary for the energy transition, otherwise we’ll fall short of really transitioning.”
Project ZeNETH hasn’t been the only not-for-profit project that Western Solar has partnered with in Whatcom County. They have installed solar for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, Lydia Place, Bellingham Food Bank, and the Bellingham High School. For the high school project, students are now monitoring the solar production and learning about the variability of energy production given weather and environmental conditions. These projects speak to the unpredictable benefits that come with doing work that is simply good for people and good for the planet. Profit and loss, as Markus will attest, cannot dictate the entire direction of a business. Instead, he’s learned to, “say yes easily” to projects that appeal to a social and environmental need.
As far as getting involved with Western and ZeNETH, Markus said that, “closing the gap between students and business is a major focus of mine, and something that I wish had been more discussed when I was a student,” It’s his hope that this type of bridging between institutions will get more students on track to be involved in the renewable energy industry, be it in policy, project management, or especially in the trade skills. To show their appreciation for continued education, Western Solar provides a $1,000 annual stipend to employees to follow their educational interests. This investment in an individual’s education not only directly benefits the employee, but generates a stronger work force to keep up with this rapidly developing renewable energy transition.
We have much gratitude for the work that the Western Solar team has already put forth in Project ZeNETH, and we look forward to showcasing their professional handiwork on the roof of our net-zero energy tiny house. You can check out more of their work on their website, including their installation of Washington State’s largest ‘made-in-Washington’ solar array. Fun fact: those panels were manufactured in Bellingham by Silfab Solar (formally Itek Energy), another sponsor of ZeNETH! Small world.