Solar Business Destroyed
It wasn't long after Bill Bender started tinkering with solar panels in his backyard that he created a highly-efficient solar design with patented technology.
Bender's company Solarflect Energy, twice won $1 million grants from the Department of Energy. The grants led to Bender's Suspension PV Tracker,, a device that follows the sun. The device also eliminates about 1,000 pounds of steel and gets an average of 40 percent more electricity than fixed solar systems, Bender said.
Solarflect Energy, which started in 2007, lost years' worth of research and development Tuesday morning.
Bender’s engineering and manufacturing space in White River Junction were destroyed by a fire on Tuesday morning at a small industrial park. Four other businesses were also impacted. Bender’s equipment and a machine he used to suspend cables are gone.
Bender estimated the cost of his loss to be up to $1 million. Thirty to forty custom-made trackers are gone.
He still has drawings of machinery he created to place cables for the solar, but rebuilding will take months.
“That will be one of our biggest challenges,” said Bender.
Bender’s company installed solar through the winter for the first time ever, placing as much solar as it could because a 30 percent federal tax credit was set to expire at the end of 2016 and there was uncertainty if it would be extended.
“People who want to go solar, we want to get them in the ground as soon as we can,” said Bender.
Bender had another 40 or so solar installations scheduled this spring.
Bender has administrative offices in Norwich. About seven of his employees worked in White River Junction.
Bender, who lives in Norwich, calls himself a serial entrepreneur. He founded a series of internet companies before experimenting with solar.
Bender’s previous company went through a similar fire in February 1999 in Massachusetts. The fire destroyed his e-commerce business.
There was silver lining, though. Bender ended up selling his internet business just before the dotcom crash in 2000.
“We sold it at the peak of the dotcom bubble," said Bender who was working a late night in his office on Wednesday. “In retrospect, the fire was a great thing.”
On Thursday Bender was still trying to secure a temporary location. He was still looking for the silver lining in this fire.