New England program helps low-income communities join the green energy revolution
Revision Energy partners with impact investors and CDFIs to make solar power more accessible.
Over the past two years, utility costs have increased steadily increasing, especially in New England, which already has some of the highest electricity costs in the country. In New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island, residential electricity increased by at least $0.03 per kilowatt hour from December 2020 to 2021. Deregulation in many states such as New Hampshire is keeping consumers in the driver’s seat promoting competitive pricing and consumer choice rather than monopolisation by energy suppliers.
In light of this ever-increasing cost, the New Hampshire-based company Revision Energy aims to make affordable solar power more accessible to low-income residents. The program allows both investors to benefit from tax advantages and resident-owned cooperatives to purchase solar equipment for monthly savings.
Dan Weeks, vice president of business development at Revision Energy, described the program as an “energy endowment.” They partner with philanthropists, impact investors and lenders such as CDFI Community Loan Fund to build the endowment and provide capital loans to nonprofit organizations.
“Solar has an upfront cost and long-term benefits for a nonprofit community that doesn’t have a lot of cash lying around,” Weeks says. “They need help overcoming this cost in order to reap the benefits of owning their power.”
An innovative partnership between the Community Loan Fund and Revision Energy aims to serve Resident-Owned Housing Co-operatives (ROCs), communities of mobile home owners who purchase the land on which their homes reside. New Hampshire contains 140 ROCs, according to Tara Reardon, vice president of the ROC program at Revision Energy.
“Part of the mission is to serve people who can’t access capital on a regular basis, not just to solve environmental problems,” says Reardon. “And that’s where we cross paths really well.”
Revision puts the pieces together – helping to connect the funding partner with the nonprofit, installing the solar system, and performing the required maintenance. After five years, the partner hands the system over to the nonprofit, either as a donation or at a significantly reduced cost – less than the initial cost of building the system. The program allows the organization or community to become less dependent on the power company networks, or in many cases, even completely independent of it.
“Revision helps the community get the grants and educates community residents on what kind of reporting needs to be done afterwards,” Reardon says.
Reardon says that at community meetings in the first communities they worked with, residents reported individual savings of $20 per month. In resident owner communities, mobile home owners pay rent to their co-op with an elected or appointed board. By law, the council cannot charge profit or interest for electricity, so any savings generated go directly to the owners.
The arrangement is made possible by an instrument called the Power Purchase Agreement or PPA.
“As its name suggests, the nonprofit buys electricity from the solar panel, buying clean electricity for less than it pays the utility for that same energy,” Weeks explains. “This allows investors to cover the customer, in addition to benefiting from the solar tax credit.”
Approaching its 20th anniversary, Revision Energy has installed more than 12,000 solar panels, including 8,000 solar systems and more than 4,000 add-on systems such as for electric vehicles. In addition to their partnership with the Community Loan Fund, they partner with other lenders and investors on PPA projects, including soup kitchens, schools, and churches.
“Savings over the life of the PPA project can range from six to seven figures, up to millions of dollars over the life of the system,” says Weeks. “We know that solar electricity is the cheapest form on earth. I like to say that I’m lucky to be in an industry where the fuel source is free.
Weeks is quick to point out that the business model is also sustainable. The clean energy industry is profitable enough to provide decent wages with good benefits and generate profits for investors. It is a certified B corporation with an employee ownership model. They have over 350 employee-owners and are working to hire another 40.
“What excites me is that there are so many opportunities to add jobs, good jobs that people can feel good about and earn a good income from working,” Weeks says. “Across the country, we are seeing growth. It gives a sense of pride and dignity… We hope that part of this transition is not just about reducing pollution, but about expanding economic opportunity and equity.
This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lens of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is generously supported by Partners for the Common Good. Sign up for PCG’s CapNexus newsletter at capnexus.org.
Hadassah Patterson has been writing for media outlets for more than a decade, contributing seven years to local news online and with 15 years of business writing experience. She currently covers politics, business, social justice, culture, food and wellness.