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A conversation with Orion Thornton

Orion Thornton and Conor Darby, owners of Onsite Energy
Orion Thornton, co-owner of Onsite Energy along with Conor Darby, talked to MREA in March 2016 about how he fulfilled his dream of building a career in solar in his home state of Montana.

How did you get into the solar business?
I grew up off the grid in Northwest Montana, which sparked my interest in alternative energy. In 2002, after taking a weeklong renewable energy workshop, I realized I could make a career of it. In 2006 I completed a two-year solar design and installation degree at San Juan College in New Mexico. After finishing the degree I came back to Montana to regroup, and was prepared to move out of state to find a job in the solar industry. But it turned out Independent Power Systems (in Bozeman) was hiring, and given the level of training I had received I was a good fit to comeon as a designer/installer. I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to build my career here in Montana.

An Onsite Energy project in Yellowstone National Park

Tell me about starting Onsite Energy.
Owning my own business had always been the goal, and I went for it in 2012. Conor joined as co-owner of the business soon after. We’ve grown fast since 2012 and have installed more than 750 kilowatts of solar. Combined with the projects we completed while at IPS, Conor and I have been directly involved in the installation of nearly 2 megawatts of solar capacity throughout the state. In addition to Conor and myself, we currently employ a full time installation manager and two full-time installers during the summer months, as well as a salesperson.

What’s your favorite thing about working in the solar industry in Montana?
Being a contributor to a strong job-creating industry while at the same time having a positive impacton the environmental health of our communities.

Why did you sign up as a Penny Per Watt Champion?
It was a no-brainer for us, having been directly involved with MREA for over a decade and knowing how vital MREA is to the future of Montana’s solar industry.