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Community Solar – Newbury, Vermont

New Community Solar Terms Provide Vermont Businesses with Savings

Newbury, Vermont village. (Tom Narwid)

John Kluwin

When you hear the words “solar panels” you probably think of panels on your roof or possibly on the land next to your building. Maybe you’ve thought, “That seems great, but it’s not a fit for me or my property.”

There are many factors that limit the ability of small businesses to benefit from a solar installation. Many small businesses lease their building or have future plans to relocate, older buildings may need roof upgrades, site constraints can limit ground installations, and shade from nearby trees or structures may impact production. Then there’s the cost. Installing a solar array on-site requires a large capital investment and not all small businesses can finance the cost of building their own array, benefit from the tax credits, or have an interest in utilizing or monetizing the renewable energy credits produced by the array. While many small businesses have heard community solar is a way to support locally produced renewable energy, there hasn’t been a program available to them. Historically, the Vermont net metering program has disproportionately benefited towns, hospitals, school districts, public companies and other entities that can provide audited financials or corporate guarantees of payment in exchange for community solar credits. Furthermore, long term contracts up to 25 years have been typical. There just hasn’t been a solar solution that fits the needs of many small businesses.

Impact investors interested in promoting the larger community benefits of locally harvested renewable energy have now entered the Vermont solar market to address underserved small businesses with flexible subscription terms, no credit checks and guaranteed savings. The Welch Community Solar Array, financed, owned, and operated by Sea Oak Capital, is the most recent example of this new approach to community solar.

Located in Newbury VT, the Welch Community Solar Array is an 830 kW DC ground mount solar array. Up to 20 small businesses and non-profits are subscribed to the array at any given time with each entity saving hundreds of dollars each month on their Green Mountain Power bill. Among the subscribers are a hotel, restaurant, insurance agency, and a church. These subscribers have locked in savings from the Welch Community Solar Array under a short term, flexible subscription agreement that allows easy transferability if a subscriber moves locations or in the event a business is sold.

The 83kW Welch Community Solar Array subscribes 20 businesses and non-profits. (Norwich Solar Technologies)

Community solar arrays generate electricity that flows directly into the local power grid in turn producing monetary net metering credits. When a small business subscribes to a community solar array, it is subscribing to a portion of the total credits produced by the array. Each month, Green Mountain Power applies a portion of the total credits directly to the existing electric bill of the small business. This appears as a monetary credit that reduces the amount the small business owes to Green Mountain Power. Green Mountain Power continues to supply the business with electricity and there is no disruption in the service, just a reduced bill amount. After the business receives the credit from Green Mountain Power, it then pays a discounted price for that monetary credit, in turn capturing guaranteed savings. It functions similarly to purchasing a Groupon or a gift card at a discount to the face value. Small businesses can capture up to $1,000 per month in savings from a community solar subscription.

Community solar arrays avoid the before mentioned pitfalls that small businesses have faced when considering going solar. There is no installation on their property, no added insurance requirements, no maintenance, and no upfront cost. Since Sea Oak Capital owns and operates all of its community solar arrays, subscribers contract directly with the array and not a middleman or aggregator. Therefore, there is no need for a credit check, corporate guarantee or financial review prior to subscribing to a Sea Oak Capital community solar array. Eliminating this requirement has reduced the subscription process to about five minutes through an online portal accessible on Sea Oak Capital’s website. In addition, since all of Sea Oak Capital’s projects are fully financed and under construction, subscribers can see savings as early as their next billing cycle.
“Our number one goal is to make the subscription process easy and efficient for small businesses,” said Dan Poydenis, CEO of Sea Oak Capital. “We know every small business has their hands full with daily operations. Savings from a community solar array doesn’t have to be an added burden.”

Sea Oak Capital is an impact investment fund that owns and operates community solar projects in the Northeast with operations across the country. As a fully integrated independent power producer with internal staff responsible for all aspects of asset management, operations, and maintenance of its solar arrays, Sea Oak Capital is dedicated to expanding the renewable energy economy by providing all small businesses with access to community solar savings.

While the Welch Community Solar Array is fully subscribed, Sea Oak Capital is currently building five more community solar arrays in Green Mountain Power’s utility territory in Vermont and offering short term subscription agreements to local small businesses. The arrays are located in Hartland, Wallingford, Cavendish, Clarendon, and West Pawlet, but all businesses in Green Mountain Power territory are eligible to join.

To learn more about Sea Oak Capital’s community solar program please visit https://seaoakcapital.com/submit-a-community-solar-application/

John Kluwin is the Chief Development Officer at Sea Oak Capital and is responsible for all aspects of the company’s community solar program in Vermont. When he’s not saving money for small businesses, he is hiking, surfing or snowboarding.

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