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From Online Newsletter July 2009

Long Island Business News - June 18, 2009
by Bernadette Starzee

Greg Darvin is known on the East End of Long Island as a pool guy. He started Pristine Pools, a pool design, installation and maintenance company, in East Hampton nearly 20 years ago. Last December, he launched Pristine Eco Systems, a separate company, also in East Hampton, that offers a suite of renewable energy solutions including solar electric and hot water systems, geothermal systems, water filtration and home efficiency audits.

“We’re looking to get our name out there and let people know what we do,” Darvin said. “East Hampton is a small town, and when people hear I’m doing solar, they just assume it’s heating systems for pools. But it’s much more than that.”

The decision to start the new company was less a business decision than a personal calling, Darvin said.
“I am getting great personal satisfaction out of doing something that’s good for the environment,” he said.

But it was a business decision, too. “There’s an obvious trend with the new president and the high price of fuel over the past couple of years toward alternative energy,” he said. “It’s something that people are open to – they’re willing to listen to what you have to say.”

There is a synergy with his pool business, said Darvin, whose clients are increasingly asking him about solar heating systems for their pools.

“I show them it makes more sense to get a solar electric system for the entire house, and use the electricity generated to heat the pool,” he said.

Most of the young company’s business has come from existing customers and referrals. “For something like solar, which is such a mystery to so many people,” Darvin said, “people feel more comfortable doing business with someone they trust.”

Builders have accounted for most of Pristine Eco Systems’ jobs so far. In addition to the pool company, Darvin started a masonry company, River Rock, about a decade ago and has worked with many local builders. “I have good relationships with builders, and building is going in a green direction,” he said.

Although the pool and masonry businesses’ customers are potential clients for Pristine Eco Systems, the new company runs autonomously from the others. “It has its own office and its own staff,” Darvin said. “Other than me, there’s no crossover.” Pristine Eco Systems has four staff members in addition to Darvin. “We all wear a lot of hats,” he said. “Everybody’s a salesperson; everybody’s a technical person.”

Darvin is not concerned that the decrease in fuel prices over the past year will dampen Long Islanders’ increasing appetite for alternative energy. “The memory of the high cost of energy is still very fresh in everyone’s minds,” he said. “Solar electric systems create an unusual situation that allows you to fix utility costs over time. It’s not so much about costs today, but five, 10 or 15 years from now. No one knows what the rates will be then, but they always trend upward over time.”

With the significant rebates that are available from the Long Island Power Authority and tax credits, homeowners who install a solar electric system can get their money back in energy savings in five to seven years, Darvin said. But it can take much longer for some. “It depends on the size of the system and how big a user of electricity the homeowner is,” he said.

Photovoltaic systems are not for every property, Darvin said. “About 40 to 50 percent of properties will see tremendous benefit,” he said. “But at the opposite end of the spectrum, 15 to 20 percent would gain no benefit.”

Darvin said he helps potential clients look at whether the economics make sense. “We will tell them if they’re not a candidate for solar,” he said. “We don’t want to create a bad name for it. Not every job should be done.”

Homes that are surrounded by a lot of tall, shady trees or that have a northern exposure, for instance, are generally not good candidates.

One challenge that Darvin looks to overcome is convincing homeowners that the time to go solar is now, instead of waiting for the product to get better or for prices to come down.

“The technology is always improving, but you have to pick a jumping-off point,” he said. “At some point, we all had to buy a computer.”