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Vets promote economic development in SLV

Posted: Thursday, Dec 6th, 2012

From left Wholesale Solar principals Billy Vandover, Gary Walker and Ray Champion speak with SBDC business consultant Andra Hargrave at a recent meeting in Alamosa regarding economic development for military veterans. Courier photo by Ruth Heide

Courier editor

ALAMOSA — Like the soldiers they once were, San Luis Valley military veterans refuse to see failure as an option when it comes to making a living in civilian life.

Several veterans recently met with Andra Hargrave, business consultant with the Colorado Small Business Development Center, to talk about ways they could promote economic development among the hundreds of veterans living in the San Luis Valley.

Retired Marine Gary Walker pointed to the city of Montrose as a model for becoming known as a military friendly area, and he said he saw no reason why the San Luis Valley as a whole could not do the same.

The group talked about involving local bankers and existing businesses, for example, and Hargrave promised to continuing discussions with local veterans and economic development groups to promote business growth among veterans in the Valley.

Walker and business partners Billy Vandover, who served six years in the Army, and Ray Champion, with 25 years in the Marines, are leading by example with a new Valley business, Wholesale Solar, LLC.

The venture began with solar expert Vandover helping Walker outfit his Mosca-area property with a solar system. Walker had researched the best solar system for 10 years and had looked into both off-grid and grid-tie-in systems. He met Vandover by chance at a local business where both were printing up business cards, Walker for a horse business and Vandover for his solar enterprise.

The veterans-turned-businessmen are encouraging Valley residents to take advantage of the Valley’s premium sunlight and the government’s incentive programs to install affordable solar systems in homes and businesses including agricultural enterprises.

Their first customer was Walker who installed a 10-killowatt grid-tie system on his property.

“I have taken myself off propane, will eliminate my electric bill and I will get 30 percent of my cost back from the federal government,” Walker explained.

Walker said solar systems that previously were financially out of reach for most people are now affordable through loan programs where monthly payments might be $100-200 a month “and no electric bill.”

“We want to help people understand there are programs out there that will help them eliminate their electric bill,” Walker said.

“We want to help people in their homes,” he added. “That’s where they live.”

“If people have high energy bills, we can show how to cut that energy cost way down,” Vandover added.

Walker said before installing his solar system he was spending about $5,000 annually on electricity and propane. Now he has $202 per month in loan payments for his solar system and no propane and very little if any electrical costs. Solar incentives from Xcel and the federal government reduce his loan payments even more.

“It’s a dramatic savings,” he said.

He will have the system paid off in five years.

When his system produces more electricity than it needs, he is able to feed power into the grid and receive reimbursement for it, he added.

“They are paying me instead of me paying them. It’s an absolute win situation.”

Many people do not know how to acquire solar for themselves or how affordable it can be, Walker said.

“We want to help people to understand they do not have to pay the high energy bills they are paying, and we can help show them how to do that.”

For more information contact Billy Vandover at 719-480-3699.

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