Solar power store highlights bright potential for clean energy
Next to the Village Pet Market, two doors down from Trader Joe’s, a vision of California’s energy future is for sale.
Bland’s Solar & Air, in a nondescript strip mall here, looks a little like a car dealership, only for personal electricity generators from the sun. The unusual storefront gives potential customers a chance to do the solar-panel equivalent of kicking the tires.
A children’s play area and electronic information kiosks greet customers as they walk through the doors on their way to a lineup of roofs — barrel tile, slate, conventional shingle and metal — all covered with solar panels.
“I got to see what I was buying,” said Victoria Vidal, a 55-year-old Bakersfield resident said after signing an agreement to buy a solar system. “It actually made it real to come in and touch the panels.”
Solar experts say there’s nothing quite like it.
By all accounts, owner Glenn Bland runs the largest, most comprehensive solar power showroom in California, with not only panels but also actual rooftops with the systems mounted for potential customers to see.
Bland’s 5,000-square-foot Bakersfield showroom, which opened in October 2014, is one of three he owns. He operates one in Templeton and another in Clovis. His plans for 2017 include the addition of a store in Fresno and a fifth in a to-be-determined location.
Of the 100 solar installations Bland contracts each month, 50% to 60% are the result of his showrooms.
“We want to bring a new level of professionalism to the solar industry,” Bland said. “It’s been very well received.”
Bakersfield might not seem the likely place for a clean energy business to succeed. Although it gets plenty of sunshine, the San Joaquin Valley city is a conservative outpost in an overwhelmingly liberal state.
Yet by the end of 2015, homeowners in Bakersfield installed 12,000 solar systems, twice as many as in San Francisco, according to the California Solar Energy Industries Assn. San Jose has a population that is three times the size of Bakersfield but has 1,000 fewer rooftop solar installations.
Overall, Bakersfield is third among California cities, behind Los Angeles at 20,000 and San Diego at 14,000.
Even on the national level, more consumers are viewing solar power as an economic benefit rather than part of the environmentalists’ agenda. That has many solar proponents hopeful that President-elect Donald Trump will embrace solar in addition to his avowed support for expanding fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal and oil.
Members of the tea party have even started fighting against efforts to stymie the growth of rooftop solar in the Western states of Nevada and Arizona.
“It’s no longer a left coast, liberal thing,” Bernadette del Chiaro, executive director of the solar association, said of solar growth.