People of the 10th anniversary Top Solar Contractors list: Hilary Fiene, Stateline Solar

For the 10th anniversary of the Top Solar Contractors list, we’re sharing Q&A’s with the people who make the industry run every day. Read more interviews here.

How’d you get started in solar?

My start in solar was as a supporter. My then-boyfriend, Ethan, always wanted to own his own business and he had a passion for construction and being hands-on. We live in a rural area and noticed a need for renewable energy and solar strongly intrigued us, so in July of 2017 Ethan decided to quit his full-time job in construction and we started the first solar installation company in our county and called it Stateline Solar. When Stateline Solar started, we were living in a small two-bedroom house and converted our spare bedroom into our “headquarters.” It was small, but it filled our needs at that time; Ethan working full-time and myself moonlighting working with him on Stateline Solar, along with me working another full-time job and part-time job to help keep us financially stable as two young individuals knowing ROI is slow to come when initially starting a business. That first year, I really supported Ethan’s dreams and made them my own, studying how solar works, best install practices, researching best equipment and materials, and so on. We traveled to educational solar courses all across the U.S. and built Stateline Solar up. Fast-forward to 2019, Stateline Solar really exploded — we opened our first official shop/office location, Ethan and I got married, I was able to quit my job and officially work full-time alongside Ethan, we doubled our team — employing more than 10+ local individuals, and Ethan and I welcomed our first child.

What’s your favorite part about being in the solar industry?

Several things make me love being a part of the solar industry. One of my favorite things is that it is truly a community. There are so many amazing solar/renewable organizations that welcome us in and share their stories and resources. As a woman in solar, the Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE) is a personal favorite. This group of extraordinary women lift each other up and continuously work towards assisting their members to excel in this industry.

What has surprised you the most about the solar industry in the last several years?

How drastically for the better that the solar industry is constantly evolving and improving. Before my time in solar, the cost of systems, materials, installation and so on was priced out of most residential homeowners budgets. We constantly hear this from our customers — these individuals who were interested in a solar array for their home or business 10-15 years ago, and now finding how much more affordable it is to go solar. In the last decade, solar materials have become not only more affordable, but more efficient. Technology is continuously bettering every single year.

What are your solar predictions for the next 10 years?

I foresee in the solar industry a lot of system pairing with EV and battery systems. This has become more widely done in our rural area over the last year or so, and I foresee only a stronger need for this as net-metering dwindles in our state along with the surge of electric vehicles on the road and the push car manufacturers are making toward EV production. My hope with this thought is that batteries will become more affordable as the current pricing drives away interested buyers in our region.

How’d you/your company stand out in the last year?

I think at a local level, we have stood out in our community as a key solar installer for our region. We employ all local individuals, and when in a small community, everyone knows everyone, making word-of-mouth a key part of our business.

How are you helping to improve the industry?

We hope to provide education to the community to help teach how solar works and the benefits behind renewable energy. Prior to COVID-19, Stateline Solar held monthly free educational sessions for the public to attend, learn how solar works and allow time for participants to ask questions. We quickly learned that there are lots of myths and false information spread about the solar industry, so our mission is to myth-bust and educate. We value transparency and want to ensure everyone is well-informed when making the decision to go solar as well.

What does it take to jumpstart the transition to solar at a local level?

I might be misunderstanding this question, but if this refers to what would help more local individuals make the jump toward solar – INCENTIVES! Incentives are our best tool when sharing the benefits of going solar. We come from Illinois, which used to have a booming Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program, which unfortunately depleted of capacity in 2020. So now we are praying our politicians downstate realize the value of replenishing capacity of the SRECs program to assist our state in not only benefiting it’s constituents to go solar, but also help Illinois achieve their carbon-neutral goals. In addition, the extension of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has been a huge blessing and right step for the renewable industry. These incentives along with net-metering make a huge impact on our customers’ choice to go solar.