Trevor Tario and Jeff Scharf looked at a number of regions with industrial space before settling on Espanola. And once they made up their minds, there was no turning back.
Earlier this year, the pair purchased all the available land in the town’s industrial park to establish Helios Developments, a homegrown enterprise that began as a self-sustaining building leasing space and evolved into a facility that will manufacture components for the solar energy industry.
Their venture will encompass solar thermal walls, solar hot water heating, photovoltaic panels, and the province’s microFIT program. Helios will manufacture its own components, install the systems, and undertake research and development on new technology.
“We’re looking to basically provide homeowners and commercial and industrial business buildings with a green option,” Tario said. “We’re planning on showcasing that with our first building, showing businesses that you can be an environmentally responsible corporate citizen as well as still make the same revenues that you could any way else.”
The complex will include a 15,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, equipped with self-sustaining solar capabilities. The facility will have a full fabrication shop and employ 30 people. Their immediate catchment area encompasses the region stretching from North Bay to Thessalon, but the pair isn’t ruling out expansion in the future.
Tario and Scharf bring unique skills and experience to the industry. Tario, an industrial electrician who served as a supervisor and planner with Vale’s electrical division, operates Green Power Solutions, a turnkey solar energy company. Scharf played professional hockey in the U.S. before returning home to earn a teaching degree, and has now been at the helm of Roofing Done Right for a decade. The two Lively-raised entrepreneurs joined forces after realizing the potential in the solar energy industry.
They see manufacturing their own components as the more lucrative aspect of the industry, and have established a close working relationship with Cambrian College.
They plan to hire its renewable energy grads to undertake R&D, with the goal of revolutionizing the solar power industry, Scharf said.
“We want to create new products, and we’re working with architects trying to design the greenest buildings we possibly can, and mimic China and Japan and some of these countries that are developing unbelievable buildings we haven’t seen here in Canada yet,” he said.
Making alternative energy affordable is a major goal, and so is working with existing companies like solar-panel manufacturer Heliene in Sault Ste. Marie. Tario and Scharf want to develop a frameless solar panel, for example, which currently doesn’t exist on the market but could vastly improve on cost. It’s just one idea on their extensive list of R&D projects.
Espanola proved the ideal location to achieve all this, the partners said, largely because of the hospitable, accommodating staff that worked hard to woo Helios to town. With water, sewer and hydro already installed, and the promise to construct a new access road this fall, Tario and Scharf were smitten.
“A lot of it had to do with the personal dealings with the town themselves,” Tario said. “They were very willing to give us anything we needed. It wasn’t as much of a fight to get information or just talk to somebody. They’ve been fantastic the whole time.”
But Espanola is also one of the best areas for available grid connectivity in Northern Ontario. Eventually, the pair hopes to lure other businesses to the industrial park and encourage them to become self-sustaining as well.
The entrepreneurs aren’t deterred by the stalling of the province’s microFIT program. While small, 10 MW projects will comprise a portion of their business, they say they aren’t banking their entire enterprise on the success of that program.
Instead, as more Ontarians seek alternative energy solutions, Tario and Scharf believe the industry can only grow.
“It’s a very sustainable business,” Tario said. “We see a long term in this; it’s not something that we’re going to play around with for five years and then we don’t know. We know there’s going to be a future in it and we’re really excited about it.”