Solar firm continues work despite damage

The walls are stripped and drying at EmPower

The walls are stripped and drying at EmPower Solar in Island Park. Chief executive David Schieren, left, and chief operating officer Gregory Sachs have seen storms come and go, but they never could have imagined the level of destruction Sandy would leave behind. (Nov. 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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Both David Schieren and Greg Sachs, executives at EmPower Solar in Island Park, have seen storms come and go, but they never could have imagined the level of destruction Sandy would leave behind.

At the height of the storm, nearly three feet of water poured into their corporate offices from Long Beach Road, almost reaching desk level.

"It came up very fast," said Sachs, 35, the company's chief operating officer. Sachs stayed at the facility until 2 a.m., barricading the front doors the best he could and closing doors throughout the office to try to stave off the floodwaters.

In the end, Mother Nature won.

EmPower's offices were not only significantly damaged, but the company also lost five out of six work trucks and many of its tools to excessive flooding for an estimated loss of $150,000, Schieren said. Twenty of its employees, including Long Beach residents Schieren and Sachs, were displaced from their homes.

"We never anticipated anything like this," said Schieren, 34, CEO of the 9-year-old company that installs solar electric and backup power systems.

EmPower is one of the many regional companies that have to rebuild after superstorm Sandy.

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"It [Sandy] was more significant than clearly anyone thought it was going to be," said Bob Boyd, CEO of Agility Recovery Solutions, a Charlotte, N.C.-based disaster recovery firm.

The race to reopenStorm-ravaged businesses now need to try to recover operations as quickly as possible.

"The longer a business is unable to resume operations, the more difficult it is for it to ever reopen," Boyd said.

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EmPower never shut down. Employees conducted site visits in their personal vehicles two days after Sandy. Company officials utilized space at its marketing firm, Harrison Leifer DiMarco in Rockville Centre, until they could set up operations at various employees' homes. They also worked at their Island Park facility amid renovations slated to be completed Thanksgiving week.

"Never did the thought cross our minds to stop work," Schieren said.

And there was lots of work to be done. Not only did they need their leased space renovated at two adjacent buildings, but they also needed to visit clients in severely impacted areas to assess damage and disconnect submerged solar electric systems until they could be repaired, Sachs said.

"They were fantastic," said Mark Lartigau, 59, a Long Beach customer who suffered damage to his home and solar electrical system. "They were there even before any kind of restoration started."

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Contact proves crucialThe company also communicated with clients through email and updates on Facebook and LinkedIn, Schieren said.

That type of communication is key.

"Otherwise all your stakeholders are kind of left in the dark and will make assumptions based on lack of information," Boyd said.

It's also critical to keep employees in the know during a disaster. Dion Lollis, 40, a solar installer whose Long Beach apartment was destroyed, says he's grateful that "at least we have a job to continue on."

The company has already replaced its trucks and tools. While EmPower laid out the money upfront, they're hoping insurance covers a bulk of the storm-related costs, Schieren said.

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While Sandy will impact revenues this year, Schieren feels ultimately it will breed more demand for their services as people look for alternative forms of renewable energy to supplement LIPA's grid.

"Solar can address a lot of the grid problems," Schieren said.

Before Sandy, revenues were up about 30 percent year-over-year, and EmPower was among 16 firms recently awarded $30 million in state incentives for large-scale solar projects in New York City and the lower Hudson Valley.

"We'll definitely come out of this a stronger company," Sachs said.

AT A GLANCE

Name EmPower Solar, Island Park

Company executives CEO David Schieren and COO Greg Sachs

Established 2003

Employees About 50

Revenues $10 million plus

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