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Monday, 18 July 2011

Solar firm sees future with UAW: Production plan needs ‘automotive discipline'

July 17, 2011

Here is a clean-tech version of a man-bites-dog story:

Kousay Said -- CEO of ZeroBase Energy LLC, the newest tenant at Detroit's NextEnergy -- plans to rapidly ramp up a new manufacturing center in the Detroit area. And he wants it to be run by members of the United Auto Workers.

A CEO moves a business owned by a New York private equity company to Detroit from Maine in part so he can hire higher-paid union workers? Absolutely, he says. A union shop is crucial to his plans to take a company founded in 2009 from its first revenue in 2010 to $1 billion in revenue in the next five or six years.

"I've had advanced discussions with the UAW. I'm very interested in having a union shop," said Said. "We're going to have a run rate of 1,000 units a year by the end of this year, and the best way to do that is to have a highly trained workforce."

The units he referred to are portable arrays of solar panels housed inside a glass-filled composite exterior shell. Carrying the trademarked nameReGenerator, they generate electricity in the field.

"Our strategy for production needs an automotive discipline. We don't need to educate that workforce. They can bring a lot of value to a production line. The union now is very interested in new ways of engaging management. This will yield benefits for both of us. I'm very excited about it," he said.

Said is looking at several possible sites in Southeast Michigan formerly occupied by auto suppliers, and he hopes to be in production by the end of the year. The availability of such sites was another reason to move the company here, as was the chance to incubate at NextEnergy and take advantages of the nonprofit's contacts.

Said has big plans for a company that currently employs just 11, including six at NextEnergy and several in Thomaston, Maine, at a low-volume facility that makes 20 units a month. He hopes to be at 60 employees within a year. ZeroBase assembles component parts made entirely by U.S. suppliers, including crystalline solar panels from Georgia-based Suniva Inc.


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