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A Little Hope for the Little Guy
John Miggins was 12 when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. It was on that day Miggins knew he wanted to be an astronaut. He spent all his free time reading and researching his future career. He thought one of the coolest things, aside from walking on the moon, was how they got electricity all the way up in space. As early as 1905, Einstein discussed harnessing the sun's energy in a paper on the photoelectric effect; and, by 1964, NASA's Nimbus spacecraft launch was powered by a solar array.
The astronaut thing didn't quite work out for Miggins, but all that research didn't go to waste.
Flash forward about 25 years. Miggins was at a turning point in his life. Recently laid offand with a family to support, Miggins decided to go offthe grid and start his own business. He purchased a small 800-square-foot bungalow on a busy Tulsa street-for a song-and opened Harvest Solar Wind Power.
Unfortunately, passion wasn't enough to keep Harvest Solar energized. Even though plenty of people were aware of solar and wind power, for many it was little more than a solution to heat your pool or a back-up battery for rural homeowners. Miggins and his partner took plenty of calls, but few jobs panned out. On the jobs that did, they were always under the gun-scrambling to get what they needed when they needed it, hiring extra hands and subcontractors, keeping just enough money in the bank to make it all happen while putting in 80-hour weeks. If a customer was late on payment, or didn't pay at all, it could be catastrophic for the business.
In January 2008, Miggins received a call from Studio 804, a design group made up of students from the University of Kansas School of Architecture and Urban Planning. The students were on a semester-long project to build an art and community center in Greensburg, Kansas. The 547 Art Center, aptly named for the date of the devastating tornado that struck the town on May 4, 2007, would be the town's first completed building. As with most projects in Greensburg, they were looking for donations. Lots of them. They were hoping Miggins, who was still operating as Harvest Solar at the time, would be able to do the solar and wind power systems for the building. Miggins was in no position to donate the $50,000 it would cost but submitted a bid and worked with the students on some plans, "just 'cause it was cool."
The frustrations were mounting. Miggins was doing his taxes one day and thought, "I show my income, but I don't know where it all goes." Around that same time, an old friend from his hometown of Houston called with an offer Miggins couldn't refuse. A new company called Standard Renewable Energy was looking to expand and needed experienced regional sales managers to cover the Oklahoma and Kansas territories. Miggins knew the area and definitely knew his stuff, so it was a perfect fit. Standard Renewable could provide the corporate infrastructure, financial backing, logistics, and purchasing power Miggins lacked while allowing him some of the freedoms he enjoyed while running his own show.
Although Miggins was confident in his decision to join Standard Renewable Energy, some of his customers didn't understand the need for him to be part of a larger organization. Solar homeowner Emily Priddy purchased her system from Harvest Solar in early 2007 and was very happy with the level of service received from Miggins on his own. Shortly after Priddy's system was installed, Miggins joined Standard. An ardent supporter of independent local businesses, Priddy has mixed feelings about the market share large companies have nowadays. "When the big guys catch on, at least it makes the technology more widely available," says Priddy. Miggins still provides customer support for Priddy's system, but now as Standard Renewable Energy.
On April 1, 2008, Studio 804 called again. They were ready to go and hoped Miggins was still interested in their project. The thing was, he had less than a month to engineer, take delivery of the necessary components, and install the system. May 4, 2008 was to be the grand opening, and everything had to be perfect. President George W. Bush was to be the guest of honor. Oh, and they still needed at least some of the installation for free.
The next call was to Standard Renewable Energy in Houston. They agreed that the Studio 804 project was a worthy cause and gave Miggins the green light to make it happen. A normal installation takes at least 60 days to turn around. They had half of that. The building, the first of its kind in Kansas, needed to be special, so last-minute changes and upgrades had them down to the wire. The three wind turbines were so new that they had to be special ordered from Australia and shipped via air to the rural Kansas town. None of it could have been done without the backing of the larger and more well-heeled Standard Renewable Energy.
Their participation in the project has paid off. Miggins has projects pending with several of the architecture firms he met while working in Greensburg. He's hopeful the referrals will keep coming-and isn't looking back to the old days at Harvest Solar.
Compare the logistics and supply chain systems of Harvest Solar with that of Standard Renewable Energy.