NHSolarGarden.com is a New Hampshire developer with a story we can only call astonishing.
Andrew Kellar started the company a little over a year and a half ago, but his earlier life experience prepared him for it well. He started Simply Green, a New Hampshire biofuel company, in 2007. He also helped found Green Alliance, which benefits environmentally conscious businesses and customers. He moved on from those to go to work with the UNH Green Launching Pad, a program to help young cleantech companies evolve; he was the entrepreneur in residence. After that, Kellar worked on growing Revolution Energy, which offers custom designed energy solutions.
During the course of all this work, Kellar learned about solar technology, tax structures, third party ownership, and more. New Hampshire had very little available as incentives for solar, and no net metering, so he moved into the Massachusetts market. There he put together a large portfolio of solar projects, but he soon wanted to do more work in New Hampshire.
Rules started to change in New Hampshire as the laws and rules on group net metering started being developed, two years ago. About that time, Kellar transitioned away from Revolution Energy and started NHSolarGarden.com.
Knowing that group net metering was likely to come soon, Kellar began ready his business to take advantage of the boom in solar garden development he was sure would follow. He started getting potential solar gardens set up with future stakeholders, doing the basic design work, identifying potential sites, finding the best installers, making arrangements with utilities, and applying for permits based on that expectation. All this work could have been lost, if things had gone awry, but they did not. And so when the rules were finalized this year, NHSolarGarden.com had 25 megawatts (MW) of solar gardens in the queue, waiting to be installed.
There was a sense of urgency in this. The federal incentives terminate at the end of 2016 and might not be renewed. To be able to take advantage of the incentives, installations must be completed before the end of that year. Community gardens do not appear overnight; they require a fair amount of preparation, which can go on for months. Any project not started quickly might not make the deadline. NHSolarGarden.com’s projects are ready, however. Construction will start in the late summer of this year. The hope is that everything will be completed by spring.
NHSolarGarden.com will not do the physical installation of the projects. That is done by existing solar installers with known credentials. NHSolarGarden.com is an organizer, which passes the work it has seen through permitting on to cther companies. It is providing the important service of doing the background work and making sure that installations will get done that might otherwise be delayed for a long while.
One community solar garden stands out as a shining example what what a town can do. At the beginning of 2015, New Hampshire had about 7 MW of solar capacity installed. Now, the town of Franklin, with a population of 8,400, is building a 10 MW community solar garden. This one town, and not a wealthy one at that, will have a good deal more solar capacity at the end of 2016 than the entire state had at the beginning of 2015.
What Franklin will get from its solar garden is worth considering. The town will see $100,000 per year in benefits from land that will be producing income. The people in the town will see the benefits that develop from their investment in the solar garden, including lower power bills. That is the sort of thing that can make quite a difference.
The state chose to cap net-metered renewables at 50 MW, but not all for solar. Adding to solar already installed, 29 MW more will reach the cap. NHSolarGarden.com has lined up 25 MW for installation, which will bring the state’s solar capacity to about 450% of what it currently is within about ten months. This will very close to meeting the cap on its own. The remaining 4 MW will very likely be taken up by other organizations with other installations, so it is likely that New Hampshire will end 2016 with nearly five times the 7 MW of solar capacity it had in the beginning of 2015.
A lot of towns could see a benefit similar to Franklin’s, but they only will if the solar cap is raised. This means the legislature will have to act on the cap.
Increasing the cap also means the utilities will have to be ready to deal with increased amounts of solar power. This is not always as hard as it is made out to be, because solar power is most abundant at the same time of day when electric demand is highest, and it can be consumed locally, often reducing the need for transmission lines. Nevertheless, some utilities doubtless resist it.
Andrew Keller is currently working on fine-tuning an understanding of what is needed to move things forward. He says one of the most important things is getting the word out.
NHSolarGarden.com’s web site is nhsolargarden.com.