319 West B Street, Russellville | www.perihelionsolar.com
“I’ve been through Fukushima,” said Andy Barret, CEO of Perihelion Solar. “It made me think about risks and costs.” And that was the spark from which Perihelion Solar emerged.
Offering both ground- and roof-mounted panels and equipment, Perihelion Solar provides customers with everything they need to go solar including installation, the paperwork to comply with all regulations, and a 25-year warranty.
“It all began with a conversation with Nathan George,” Barrett said. “I was an inspector with the nuclear plant at the time, and we were both solar geeks. He used a company out of Little Rock for his [solar equipment], and I said I could build it better and cheaper.”
As a single dad, Barret said the pressures of being on call 24-7 as an inspector was too much. “I wanted freedom to work from home. I fell in love with this community in the beautiful Natural State. As an inspector, however, you move every five years. I wanted to stay here, so when I felt ANO was in a good spot, I left.”
Barrett said he started planning for his business in 2017. “For a year, I researched components. I traveled to manufacturers to make sure of quality control and to build relationships. I was able to acquire direct factory pricing.” He said Dr. Bob Allen, the first in the River Valley to build such a solar set-up, gave him his data from the past 10 years of production to study, as well.
Then on Perihelion Day 2018, the annual date when the earth is closest to the sun, Perihelion Solar opened for business.
Perihelion’s first client, Dr. Bruce Tedford, a biologist at Arkansas Tech University, wanted a ground array. “He was motivated by climate change,” Barret said. “We dug all the ground mount holes with shovels — two-foot holes. The ground was harder in Arkansas than expected! We had to get a jackhammer to get into the rock.”
Barrett said clients have different motivations for going solar. While his is climate change, some see the value in the savings and some want to go off-grid. “No matter who they are, it leads to great conversations.”
Perihelion President Jill Balaster said her second sale was her most impactful. “He was the most inquisitive, and it taught me a lot. I had to ask a lot of questions to get his answers.”
Balaster said she’d known Barrett since he moved to the area. “We are both green-minded and climate change motivated. I was an instructor at Arkansas Tech University. When COVID hit, my job was in jeopardy. He had mentioned needing an officer manager in December. I went from office manager to vice president to president in two weeks. It has been a really good fit.”
Another integral part of the Perihelion team is Dr. Steve Gann, master electrician and former Navy Captain. Barrett said “He’s such a unique person with the widest knowledge. He’s brilliant. He knows everything from how to cure hoof disease to bio-chemistry to electro-chemistry. He started three companies and three labs. He’s been in it with me from the beginning.”
Along with Barrett, Balaster and Gann, are six employees and several contract laborers. Barrett explained that Perihelion is an employee-owned company. “Everyone is motivated to make us better.”
The process of going solar with Perihelion, Balaster said, starts with a phone call. “We ask how they heard about us and go from there. We find their motivation: money, off-grid, backup power, environment. Some have done a lot of research, some not. We then use our software to predict the sun’s path and simulate shade at their location. We can work with any type of roof, just not north-facing.
We then ask them to come in and view the proposal if they are local. They can see our panels displayed on the wall, and depending on their level of interest, we do a site visit to find out viability. If they decide to go solar, they sign a contract with us. We then start all the paperwork for them to meet all guidelines for each utility.Then the crew goes out to install and all inspections are done.”
Barrett added that there is a tremendous added value in the task of paperwork for the customer, in meeting all of the guidelines and arranging inspections.
“The entire process takes six weeks if all goes well with paperwork and utilities. If it is off-grid, we can have it completed in a week or two,” Balaster explains. One of Perihelion’s goals is for the customer to have full payoff in eight to 10 years, then the rest is free power.
One of Perihelion’s well-known customers is All Saints Episcopalian Church in Russellville. “They saw the value even without the tax credits,” Barrett said.
Barrett has big plans for the growth of Perihelion — a local electric charging station powered by solar energy. Barrett explained that people will be able to charge their cars while using Perihelion’s bikes for free. “All we ask is that they post it on social media.” He said a contract for a downtown warehouse location for the station has already been signed and awaits zoning approval.
As for a bit of advertising, Barrett is excited about his ordered fully solar car with an estimated arrival of Fall 2022. The Aptera has a unique look and he said will certainly grab people’s attention.
With the rising popularity of electric cars, Perihelion also offers electric car chargers, with substantial rebates for government agencies and commercial businesses. Balaster said there’s also an increase of requests for these chargers in home construction.
While the office is located in the historic district of downtown Russellville, Barrett and Perihelion have certainly helped power the River Valley into the 21st century.