A conversation with Chris Daum
In April 2016, MREA talked with Chris Daum, owner of Oasis Montana, about her unique home office and long history in Montana‘s solar industry.
You have a very unique home office. Can you tell me about it?
The story goes back to 1980, when I first drove into the Bitterroot Valley on a road trip from Cincinnati with my then-husband. We never left. We bought 5 acres north of Stevensville and built an 8 by 8 foot tar paper shack. After several expansions over the years, my home office is now 1,400 square feet with 5.7 kilowatts of solar on the roof, plus a small wind turbine and more than 30 varieties of fruit trees. It’s been a long road to this point, and in fact we used an outhouse until 2004. I guess we were pioneers. It was a heck of a lot of fun, but now at the age of 60 I sure wouldn’t want to do it again.
How did you get into solar?
I started working for [solar business] Sunelco in 1989 as their office manager. As their business grew I got into shipping and sales, and learned the technical side of it. I was ready to make the leap and start my own business based out of my home in 1999. For the first five years it was just me. Now I have one full-time employee and a local electrician that I call as needed.
What does Oasis Montana do?
We install a lot of battery-based solar systems for remote off-grid homes, as well as some grid-tied systems. We also have a line of high-efficiency appliances. And we do a lot of solar water pumping for homes, livestock, riparian areas, even fish farms. We’ve sold equipment for solar water pumping systems in Africa, South America, and the Caribbean, as well as all over the U.S. Only about 30% of our businesses is in the state of Montana.
What’s your favorite thing about working in the solar industry?
The people who are into it are cool people, and they’re enthused. It’s the people that keep me going. To be able to get power from sunlight or from the wind…in a way it’s like magic, and you’re helping to connect people with magic.
Why are you supporting MREA as a Penny Per Watt Champion?
You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is. MREA has been so good for renewable energy businesses in this state, and I want to support that in any way I can.