Solar firm creates fund for nonprofits
A South Plainfield solar company is stepping up its outreach to nonprofits and municipalities, and offering them a new way to raise funds in the process.
1st Light Energy this week unveiled its new Benevolent Solar Fund program, under which the solar firm will donate cash to nonprofits that organize seminars on the benefits of solar.
"It's definitely a win-win," said Barrett Peck, vice president of sales and marketing for the developer.
Nonprofits or municipalities that participate in the program are asked to recruit at least 30 people to attend a seminar where 1st Light representatives will explain the process and benefits of going solar. For each solar project installed as a result of the seminar, the nonprofit will receive a check of $500 or $1,000, depending on the size and timing of the project.
Peck said many nonprofits view promoting renewable energy as part of their social mission. The benevolent fund provides one way to do that, but Peck said 1st Light also can help nonprofits and municipalities put up their own solar projects.
Peck said historically, it's been tough for nonprofits to finance solar, since "so many of the incentives that the federal government has put in place are all tax-derived, and nonprofits don't have the advantage of being able to utilize those incentives."
Solar developers like 1st Light can bring investors who can take advantage of the tax benefits of the project. The nonprofits, in turn, can get their solar installation at no up-front cost using a long-term power purchase agreement.
1st Light used the occasion of Science Day at St. Benedict Catholic Church and School, in Holmdel, to announce the program. St. Benedict is the benevolent fund's first participant, and it's also the site of a 935-panel combination rooftop and ground-mounted solar system completed by 1st Light in February. The school built its Science Day curriculum around solar energy, and asked representatives from 1st Light to talk about solar power.
In the case of St. Benedict, the church signed a 10-year contract to sell the state solar renewable energy certificate, or SREC, credits from its solar installation through a Board of Utilities program. Because the church entered the contract prior to the crash of SREC prices, it was able to lock in a price of $450 per SREC.
However, in order to take advantage of the contract, the project needed to be completed by the end of February. That looked dubious in December, when 1st Light took over for another company that was unable to complete the job. 1st Light said it put together a power-purchase agreement, and was able to finish the job by the February deadline, thus keeping the high-priced SREC contract intact.
Under the terms of the deal, Catherine Warshaw, the parish administrator at St. Benedict, said, the church will receive a $100,000 payment up front, and a share of the SRECs sale prices during the last eight years of the church's 15-year PPA. Those payments will effectively eliminate the parish's electricity bills for the next 15 years. Warshaw said the solar system will provide 90 percent of the parish's electricity.
Warshaw said she believes most people don't understand how to go solar, so she believes the seminars are a good way to educate the public. She also recommended hiring a good lawyer to negotiate the best possible financing arrangement.
Warshaw said her parish's seminar isn't scheduled until next month. She said any income generated from the seminar will be used to fund the church's community outreach, which includes some 89 different ministries.