Q&A with Clean Energy Collective, a Community Solar Leader

Clean Energy Co. (CEC) builds, operates and maintains community-shared clean energy facilities. CEC is pioneering the model of delivering clean power-generation through medium-scale facilities that collectively serve participating utility customers. Their proprietary software automatically calculates monthly credits for members and integrates with the utilities’ existing billing system.

Tim Braun, Director of Public Affairs at Clean Energy Co.
Tim Braun, Director of Public Affairs at Clean Energy Co.

REC Solar has partnered with CEC to build a portfolio of projects in Massachusetts and Colorado. We invited CEC’s Director of Public Affairs, Tim Braun, to give us an update on the company and trends to pay attention to in community solar in 2017.

We are finishing up working together on several projects in Massachusetts. Can you tell us what the outlook looks like this year regarding community solar? Does the focus continue to be on core states like MA and CO or are other markets becoming more viable?

Despite being a relatively new solution for distributed energy generation, community solar is growing at an impressive pace. In 2016 we saw cumulative operating capacity cross the 200 MW mark, and we expect it to exceed 400 MW this year.

Certainly, a good portion of this growth in the near term will come from core markets that have community solar-enabling policy, including Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York, and from states that recently enacted community solar legislation and are coming online this year, like Maryland. The legislative and regulatory framework in these states allow companies to deploy projects, or in Clean Energy Collective’s case a large portfolio of projects, with clearly defined guidelines and predictable economics. A significant amount of capacity that was previously stalled while program and interconnection issues were being resolved is moving into development.

However, legislation is not a requirement for community solar’s progress, as we’re seeing strong growth in other markets as well. Increasingly, this growth is from utility-sponsored initiatives, which allow investor-owned, municipal, and cooperative utilities to cost-effectively serve customers’ demand for renewable options while keeping a grid-tied relationship with them. In fact, more than 150 utilities across the U.S. now have a voluntary community solar program in place or in development.

Are there specific trends you are seeing across states in policies that are helping to drive or stifle the growth of community solar?

As several new states are either finalizing legislation to introduce community solar programs or are initiating the process, legislators and policy makers in these states have looked to existing programs to determine best practices in successful community solar program design. The first is program complexity. Some early shared-solar programs had good intentions but included overly complicated rules and burdensome requirements, which hindered developer and consumer participation. The inclination now is to seek simplicity and clarity in structure and process.

Program size and project size are considerations getting more weight in policy design. States are recognizing that establishing larger community solar programs, versus testing the waters with smaller pilot programs, broadens participation and contributes to longer-term success. Allowing larger project sizes lowers development costs, which improves the value proposition and supports more participation by low and moderate income households.

Some of the larger community solar markets, like Minnesota and Massachusetts, experienced long delays in project development as projects stalled in the interconnection application process. As a result, these states and others have worked to establish clear interconnection procedures, timelines, and costs, and are addressing queue management and cost sharing (for projects on the same substations).

CEC is clearly a leader in bringing together community officials, consumers, financing partners and other entities necessary to make a project happen. Are you able to do this just because of your experience developing successful projects, or are there other tips you have for project developers?

The short answer is yes, launching and leading this market has provided CEC with an unmatched level of experience with all of the phases required to deploy a successful community solar project, including project development, utility integration, customer acquisition and retention, and program management. CEC has built an exceptionally talented staff of specialists in each of these areas, and work with established partners, like REC Solar, where needed.

But it is also because CEC participates in all of these phases as a pure-play, full-service community solar developer that we are successful. That is, we approach every project with a holistic perspective, knowing the company and facility will be part of the community for the long term, versus addressing only one aspect of it and moving on. In doing so, it’s imperative that we work closely with local partners, community leaders, and other stakeholders to make sure the projects we develop and the way we conduct ourselves are harmonious.

What are some of the things you are looking for in a market and project site?

Every market has unique characteristics, both positive and negative. In unregulated markets, we first look to establish strong utility relationships, helping them understand the opportunity and define their goals and objectives for a community solar program. In regulated markets, we gauge the ability to develop a comprehensive portfolio of projects that can provide broad, inclusive access to affordable solar.

When siting projects, location is important because it affects project economics, via direct development costs and potentially through the credit valuation (as locational value adjustments are being considered in some states). In general, though, an optimal site for installing several hundred to several thousand solar PV panels is a large, flat area of otherwise unproductive land with good solar exposure that is adjacent or close to utility distribution equipment. It can be public or private land, with brownfields usually a high priority. As community solar emerges in densely populated markets like New York, we are also working with owners and managers of buildings with open, flat rooftops that can host a shared system.

Is there anything else you want to highlight about CEC?

I’ve been involved with community solar since CEC cut the ribbon on the nation’s first community-owned solar project in 2010, and have witnessed its evolution into a widely-embraced solution that works for consumers, utilities, and developers. During this time, CEC has worked very hard behind the scenes on policy and regulatory initiatives, program and product design, utility relations, and consumer advocacy to help the industry grow and mature. It’s exciting to be part of a team leading an emerging industry, especially one that is effecting such dramatic change in our relationship with energy.


To learn more about CEC, visit cleanenergycollective.com

Determining When Solar Makes Sense for Your Business

Solar has been around for several decades, but many people still do not know whether their business is a good candidate for solar, or when they should consider investing. In our latest educational guide called “Determining When Solar Makes Sense for Your Business,” REC Solar shares lessons learned to help you pinpoint the best time to invest.

Submit the form below to download the full two-page guide.

two-page-rec-solar-guide
Determining When Solar Makes Sense for Your Business

Client Spotlight: Q&A with Nicole Flewell, Director of Sustainability at Taylor Farms

Taylor Farms is North America’s favorite maker of salads and healthy fresh foods. The company focuses on innovation by consistently developing new products and improving production methods. Taylor Farms is family owned and based in Salinas, California with twelve operating companies and distribution facilities throughout North America.

 

Nicole Flewell, Director of Sustainability at Taylor Farms
Nicole Flewell, Director of Sustainability at Taylor Farms

REC Solar recently completed a solar installation at the Taylor Farms facility in Dallas, Texas, which is one of several solar projects for Taylor Farms. Beyond solar, the company has many renewable energy programs in place. We asked Nicole Flewell, Director of Sustainability at Taylor Farms, to talk more about these initiatives.

Congratulations on your latest facility opening in Dallas and the completion of the solar project there. Can you tell us more about what prompted Taylor Farms to make such a big push to prioritize sustainability initiatives?

Thank you! It’s a very exciting time for us at Taylor Farms. Taylor Farms has always been committed to sustainability and being good stewards of the environment. We began making significant investments to renewable and alternative energy in 2012, and we haven’t looked back. Taylor Farms is always looking for opportunities to maximize value to our customers and grow in capacity as well. The consumer is changing and many want to find products from companies who have sustainability at the core of their business models.

For example, the 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report states that 66 percent of global consumers say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable brands. This aligns with our mission to provide sustainably sourced products.

Our goal is to make a difference and our retail, deli, and food-service partners recognize that vision and how it translates the story of the product, and our company, to consumers. It makes good business sense, it’s good for the environment, and contributes to raising the bar on sustainability within the entire industry.

What kinds of renewable energy investments has Taylor Farms made?

Our first major investment was in 2012 at our facility in Salinas, CA where we installed a 1 MW fuel cell made by Bloom Energy that converts fuel into electricity through a clean, electro-chemical process. Since then, we have installed a wind turbine, four major solar installations, a cogeneration project as well as a water recycling plant.

This image shows the solar system installed by REC Solar at the Taylor Farms facility in Gonzales, California. You can also see the wind turbine installed at the facility in the background.
This image shows the solar system installed by REC Solar at the Taylor Farms facility in Gonzales, California. You can also see the wind turbine installed at the facility in the background.

Are there any unexpected ways that these investments in renewable energy have impacted your business?

Our commitment to renewable energy projects has brought many benefits to our business. Not only do these investments make good business sense, but they continue to motivate our employees and customers. It’s a great feeling to know that the company you are working for, or purchasing your healthy meal from, is making such a large commitment to doing the right thing.

 

 

What advice would you give to other companies in the food industry who are looking at solar?

Solar power, and other forms of renewable and alternative energy are a great way to manage energy costs in a predictable way and create a platform for promoting sustainable business practices. It’s important for companies in the food industry or any other sector to understand their energy profile to identify the best mix of alternative energy investments that can help the company meet their energy goals. Every company should understand their energy usage and establish an energy strategy for achieving and tracking their goals.

What sort of feedback have you received from end customers, employees, partners and retail buyers about the sustainability efforts?

Taylor Farms’ investments in sustainability projects have been widely embraced by customers and partners nationwide. We plan to continue pursuing opportunities to lead renewables projects across North America, with each project taking the company one-step further in its dedication to minimizing our environmental footprint, while delivering healthy fresh foods to our consumers.

To see more about the Taylor Farms sustainability efforts, visit http://www.taylorfarms.com/art-of-growing/sustainability.

2016 Was a Good Year for Solar Customers

The past year in solar has been defined by significant disruption that has ultimately helped the industry mature and offer better customer solutions.

Here are a few examples:
 

  1. Policy maturation is driving energy innovation. For example, in September, Hawaiian Electric Company’s customer grid supply program reached capacity, meaning customers either must store their excess energy generated by solar, or release it. This is expediting the adoption of energy-plus-storage solutions. We discussed the implications of Hawaii’s customer grid supply changes at our most recent Hawaii Innovation Series event, which you can see a summary of here.
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  3. Panel prices dropped to a record low, driving down customer costs and improving the rate of system payback. We have seen customers with as fast a four-year payback, saving millions over the life of their system.
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  5. Big players in the solar industry like SunEdison, SolarCity and SunPower have experienced challenges, which are driving all solar providers to be better energy partners to their customers. The industry is learning that customers expect a fair price and a system that delivers the savings they were promised, but will reward the provider that gives them a lot more than that. Customers are looking for a stable solar energy partner that can add value in other ways – providing a seamless sales experience, support in comparing financial analysis, and even long-term planning for ways to maximize their solar investment as part of a broader energy strategy.

At REC, we are leveraging our position as part of the Duke Energy portfolio to provide stability and help customers navigate the constant changes in the energy sector, with the goal of maximizing their solar investment.

The work we did on behalf of our clients in 2016 is making a difference. It is improving their business by reducing expenses, freeing up cash for reinvestment elsewhere and providing long-term visibility into expected energy expenses. And on top of that, it is helping to build a more sustainable world.

In celebration of the work of our clients and those at REC Solar, we created a visual summary that shows a snapshot of the environmental impact of the systems we installed in 2016.

2016-review-infographic

We are excited to see what 2017 will bring as we continue to innovate and focus on delivering better solutions and results to our customers.