US Green Energy CEO pushes transparency

July 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

U.S. Green Energy officials asserted eagerness to be an open-book operation Thursday when it welcomed Danville City Council for a tour of its local factory.

The niche market, solar roofing and building materials maker began operations in 2009. The company mainly creates specialty solar panel roofing, including a lightweight version, and more recently solar light poles for larger commercial entities.

The light poles are oriented toward an international market. Among the current contract discussions for solar light poles are Haiti, Pakistan and a country in Africa.

At its start locally, U.S. Green Energy was supported by a $1.6 million grant provided by the Virginia Tobacco Commission after it promised to create 372 jobs and invest $30 million. After failing to fulfill that agreement, the company was forced to enter into a payment plan with the city government to repay the Tobacco Commission.

“We try to run as a transparent organization so any question is fair,” CEO Bob Bennett said to the group of gathered City Council members. “Anytime anybody has a question, feel free to call me.”

Before and during the tour, Bennett fielded questions from council members and the news media about the company’s operations.

“We’ve had as you well know substantial ups and downs,” Bennett said in his introduction to the group. “Our recent one was last July. We had arranged to have money come. International monetary law changed July 1. Our money was supposed to come July 2, and we had to cancel it because it became illegal. So we’ve re-established that line and hopefully in the next month or two the money will actually make its way across the Atlantic.”

It is crucial that at least one of these potential customers comes through for the company. Bennett admitted to the council members that without the international funding or at least one of those contracts getting finalized, the company will not be able to pay its next Tobacco Commission repayment installment.

In its three years of constant struggle with state, federal and international laws, the company encountered multiple issues. Bennett said the company stopped production for part of this year.

While awaiting the international funds, the company sold its building to a shareholder. The company turned around and leased it from that shareholder. The proceeds of the sale were used to repay debts and renovate the factory.

Renovations include production line upgrades, a rebuilt laminator, upgraded inspection equipment, glass washing equipment and a laser cutting machine. Testing facilities in general have been expanded and upgraded, too.

Wiring and lighting improvements are being arranged. A wind machine was recently added to begin product tests to meet Florida wind-resistance standards.

The company is considering the purchase of a second laminator to be used as its primary laminator. The purchase of that piece will provide a back-up for the originally purchased machine. Many lightly-used equipment pieces are available on the market for extremely discounted prices, Bennett added.

The company is capable of making approximately 1,200 product pieces a day off of one machine. The factory, its process and products are UL certified.

“We currently have two certified products. We have a couple uncertified products but they are built with UL materials with UL processes, we just haven’t spent the time and money to get it certified.” That process takes approximately nine to 12 months and costs about $250,000.

Bennett explained that business is looking positive after all major debts except the Tobacco Commission were handled. “We owe no money to [anybody]. We actually have cash in the bank,” he said. “The only people we owe money to are our shareholders.”

Production is running three days a week for one, eight-hour shift. Machinery was run for the first time Wednesday. Six or seven workers are employed at the site.

Three salespeople have been employed at other regions in the country. Each has tracked down potential customer leads. A second line could be arranged within a month if orders allowed for that.

Bennett discussed potential customer opportunities with data centers. He explained that the back-up battery power used at the centers is sometimes not enough to sustain the work in outages. That’s when a solar power building material would be a reliable resource to sustain the centers.

The company also is examining potential customers with communities in the northeast where electricity rates are very high, reaching more than 15 cents per kilowatt hour. Elsewhere, samples are being prepared to send to South America and Africa, where customers are considering contracts. The business generated by any one of those customers’ contracts could keep the existing work line running constantly.

As the group began to leave, Bennett reminded them that if they ever have a question or want to talk about the company, they are always welcome to call.

Bennett stated “we don’t try to hide anything here.”

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