Main Source of Solar Savings.
“The sun does not shine for a few trees and flowers, but for the wide world’s joy,” proclaimed the famed theologian Henry Ward Beecher. The same sentiment could be said for solar power. The economic and environmental benefits of this energy resource aren’t limited to a few, but can be applied to a wide range of enterprises involving commercial ventures, private properties and municipalities alike. For the courageous business owners and individuals seeking a path to such sustainable solutions, the process begins with a simple step along Main Street.
The 21st century bears witness to the convergence of practices and processes in the renewable energy industry that were once viewed as risky and solar power is undeniably breaking the mold. Elementary solar technology was first developed by a French physicist in 1839 and today’s advancements allow us to incorporate this natural process seamlessly in our everyday lives for everything from solar powered parking meters to charging stations for electric cars. With increasing oil prices and environmental depletion both global concerns, the federal government has encouraged many institutions to explore new strategies for energy sustainability. Environmental advocates push for laws that will reduce our carbon footprint, but even well-intentioned pressure can’t accommodate for the stress of understanding current energy needs, future predictions, and adequately achieving reduction goals. As the renewable industry grows, businesses are emerging that are blazing a path that is both economically resourceful and environmentally responsible.
At the intersection of Main Street and Wall Street, a Colorado-based company is quickly growing into one of the nation’s most thriving developers of solar energy (PV or Photovoltaic) projects. As Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Eric Hinckley explains, “We are in the business of producing power and selling power at the largest discount we can.”
Incorporated in 2009, Main Street Power now owns and operates over 40 megawatts (MW) of solar systems throughout North America and Canada, with many more in various stages of development.. Whether a residential property, facilities within a school district or university, or a municipal building, Main Street Power’s combined capacity powers over 1,000 properties.
Main Street Power is the owner and operator of these solar systems, and specializes in providing clean solar power to their customers at a discount to traditional electricity. The young company’s success reminds us that the renewable energy industry is ever-changing and holds pockets of possibility for any innovative business that supply new services to a wanting industry.
Main Street Power, a company of fewer than 30 employees, was created through its affiliation with the esteemed nonprofit ICAST (International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technologies), and solar developer Peak Solar. ICAST serves as an advocate for alternative energy solutions and is dedicated to providing green job training services that uniquely cater to disadvantaged communities. Shortly thereafter, Main Street Power began a financial partnership with MS Solar Solutions Corp. (MSSS), an affiliate of Morgan Stanley. These alliances have been essential to Main Street Power’s expansion and have enabled the company to provide clean energy resources, economic solutions, and social empowerment to their customers.
“Our partners have provided us with resources to sell renewable energy at competitive rates,” says Hinckley. “We’re not spinning our wheels trying to access financing. Our focus is finding good projects and new ways to serve and grow our customer base.”
Their business model is unique in several ways. Agnostic to technology and opportunistic about where they work, the company comes to the table with financing and the expertise to handle all aspects of development, asset management and operational maintenance. All projects are contracted through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or Residential Lease structure and as a third-party participant, they are able to take advantage of a 30% government tax credit.
Main Street Power’s services are highly valued in an industry with an oversupply of product and a demand for turnkey financial solutions. On average, Main Street Power saves customers five to twenty percent annually on utility bills, depending on the size of the installation. Even on the low end of that spectrum, Hinckley says five percent savings adds up to a significant dollar amount over time.
For their commercial business, small projects are thought of to be under 1 MW, such as the 30 kilowatt (kW) system from 130 solar panels installed on the rooftop of a police station in downtown Denver. Large-scale commercial installations above a megawatt are their true wheelhouse. In 2011, Main Street Power and partners built a 5 MW system on the 435 acre campus of Arizona Western College (AWC) that won the PV Project Distinction Award in 2012. Located in the southwestern corner of the state, Yuma, Arizona has been distinguished by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “sunniest city on Earth.”
The installation is comprised of 22,000 solar panels on some forty acres of land. Recognized as one of the largest installations of its kind, AWC is expected to save a substantial amount of money over the life of the Power Purchase Agreement. Main Street Power owns and will maintain the systems for the life of the PPA.
“It speaks volumes that private business and public entities are committed to reducing their carbon footprint, and the benefits to educational institutions especially accumulate as they gain understanding and can appropriately budget for future power needs,” Hinckley explains.
Besides the economic savings for the school, the environmental payback for each year that the system is operational is substantial. C02 emissions are offset by what is equivalent any of the following over a one year period: 811,643 gallons of gas consumed; 16,837 barrels of oil consumed; or the electricity consumed by 879 households. The power output also equates to the amount of carbon sequestered annually from over 72 acres of woodland preserved from deforestation.
At the end of 2012, Main Street Power, MS Solar Solutions Corp., OneRoof Energy, Clean Power Finance, and Zions Bancorporation established multiple financing platforms to provide American homeowners with a means to access solar power resources and lower electricity rates. As the long-term owners and operators of the residential systems for fifteen to twenty years, Main Street Power is deeply invested in solar savings for every type of customer.
Main Street Power’s experience ranges from large-capacity projects to individual homes, but the greatest value comes from their work with educational institutions. “Having worked on three school districts and two higher learning campuses, we’ve been able to save schools and universities hundreds of thousands of dollars, which ultimately benefits students and teachers the most,” Hinckley says.
Along with the economic and environmental savings, Main Street Power uses their installations as an opportunity to educate the next generation of installers and engineers. Created to align with 21st Century Skills resources, Main Street Power’s K-12 solar science curriculum provides extra training for teachers and hands-on lessons for students. Kids become more connected with science concepts and get excited about learning. University and college age students receive an installation training program developed by ICAST to teach young adults the specifics of the engineering and construction fields.
Main Street Power has always been committed to incorporating nonprofit and workforce agencies into their financial models, tying interactive training and educational programs into each project they do. In 2011, they financed systems on four of Colorado’s Department of Corrections facilities. In each project, inmates were used to build and assemble solar panels for the installations.
As an energy provider whose earnings are dependent on system performance, Main Street Power has a vested interest in optimizing power production. Hinckley and others at the company are keenly aware of new technology and methodologies that could lead to greater efficiencies in solar products.
He is encouraged by research relating to augmentations known as “optimizers,” which connect to each solar panel to help balance communications between the modules, and optimizing (or increasing) the output of electricity.
Main Street Power’s future is focused on staying at the forefront of solar industry. With successful installation experience and valued customer relationships, Main Street Power has not only generated a reputation for service and quality, but has proof of the economic and environmental benefits they provide.
Having cut their teeth in the North American commercial and residential markets, Main Street Power is now looking to enter the international marketplace for new opportunities. In China and India alone there are more than 1.2 billion people, and as these countries continue to grow, so too will the need for more energy. That demand, coupled with diminishing natural resources around the world, compels the delivery of new energy alternatives to power generation.
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