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"Solar firm lands Costco sale"

The warehouse store chain is trying out sales of the Eugene company’s panels in 16 outlets. News.

Friday was a very good day for Grape Solar President Ocean Yuan, he said.

The Eugene solar panel company, which is backed by a consortium of Chinese manufacturers, received the first of what Yuan hopes will be many purchase orders from retail giant Costco.

Costco is testing sales of the company’s solar panels in 16 of its warehouse stores nationwide, assistant hardware buyer Steven Denman said. The stores were chosen by Costco’s regional managers, he said.

Denman anticipates that it will be two to three weeks before the solar panels start showing up in Costco stores. Then, he said, “The warehouses will carry them for a certain amount of time. If they continue to do well and sales are great we will add more locations.”

Yuan said the purchase orders he received Friday were from Costco stores stretching from the west to east coasts, including from Bend and Hillsboro.

He also is negotiating with Jerry’s Home Improvement Center in Eugene, Yuan and a Jerry’s official have said. And Coastal Farm and Ranch also is interested, Yuan said. Coastal’s buyer could not be reached for comment Friday.

But it is Costco that is the big fish for Grape Solar. “They have more than 500 stores (worldwide)!” Yuan said.

And, being accepted as a Costco vendor attracts the attention of other retailers, he said.

The initial Costco orders are for just the panels, not the complete installation kits that Grape Solar also will be assembling, Yuan said. But he anticipates that the orders will expand to include the full kits, he said.

Grape Solar opened a year ago in Eugene in rented space in Danebo. It has been importing panels manufactured in China by members of its consortium and selling them to a core market of contractors, property owners and installers for the past year.

Grape recently signed a three-year lease on a 53,000-square-foot warehouse in west Eugene where Yuan plans to do assembly work. He hopes eventually to employ up to 200 people, he said.

Assembling the panels in the United States qualifies them as U.S. made, making them eligible for certain government incentives.

Yuan is not ready to ramp up hiring yet, however. Until he has a long-term deal with Costco that includes the number of panels he can count on them to order, he said he plans to rely on a short-term labor agreement he is working out with Pearl Buck Center. The center provides services to people whose lives have been affected by disabilities.

Pearl Buck spokeswoman Dena Amend said the center doesn’t know yet exactly how many people Yuan might employ, and for how long, because he is still working that out.

But, Amend said, “We do have great faith in the future of his company. ... This is a great opportunity for us, and for him.”

Yuan said the company is in the process of creating an Oregon page on its Web site that will tell Oregon consumers not only how to determine what they need to produce a certain amount of electricity but also what state and federal incentives are available to help pay for the cost of their system.

With more and more states adopting financial incentives to encourage property owners to install solar power, Yuan said, he foresees a fast-­growing market for solar panels.

“The sky is the limit. ... I love this business.”

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