A tax incentive reduces a tax bill. Obviously, the tax bill has to be big enough to make it attractive to reduce it. And obviously, that means that tax incentives are directly useful only to people or organizations that have sufficiently large taxable incomes. That might sound backwards. After all, it is those without much income who really need to benefit. But let’s be clear on two things. First, whoever pays for solar photovoltaic (PV) installations has to have money to spend. And second, we need to deal with climate change, and a solar system can benefit everyone by helping with that.
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It happens that there are also ways for organizations that do not pay taxes to get their solar power. These organizations can be municipalities, schools, churches, other non-profit organizations, or even community systems set up to reduce the electric bills of people on low incomes.
We talked about this with Kim Quirk, the Branch Manager for ReVision Energy’s location in Enfield, New Hampshire. The first thing Quirk said was, “We get excited working with non-profits. We are a benefit corporation, and we are mission-driven.” Then she outlined three ways she has seen solar PV systems set up for non-profit organizations.
The first of these is simply to have a donor give an endowment, motivated by concerns for both the environment and for the non-profit itself. Tax credits are not necessary for this. Setting up a PV array for an organization provides a gift of both with “decades of free electricity,” in Quirk’s words, and knowledge that the electricity is also free of harmful environmental side effects.
A second method involves finding a combination of donations, grants, and loans to assure that the non-profit has costs reduced from what an electricity bill would be. Paying down the cost of a solar array is less expensive than buying the amount of electricity it produces. And the debt can be set up so at the end of its term, the PV system can be transferred to the non-profit for a nominal fee, providing free electricity for many years after that, perhaps decades.
A third way to get renewable energy to larger non-profits, municipalities, and school systems, is through power purchase agreements (PPA). Under such agreements, the electricity can come from renewable resources at costs lower than normal grid power. The least expensive source of electricity available today is solar power, and the least expensive way to get started for non-profits and municipals seems to be coming from PPAs for solar power. Under the agreement, it is provided at a fixed price, day or night, year around.
A catch to the PPAs is that the project needs to be large enough system to make the numbers work for the investor, and this might mean that it must be 100 kilowatts (kW) or larger. We should bear in mind, however, that the overall system does not have to provide all of its output to a single user. Group net metering allows for multiple organizations to share the production from one large solar array.
Investors who prefer to put their money to work in ways that benefit causes they want to promote are called “impact investors.” These investors help with needs almost anywhere, and for individuals or groups of people. The trick, however, is to find them. And fortunately for those who need to find impact investors, ReVision has a program in place to help non-profits and impact investors find each other.
There are a number of examples of non-profit organizations that benefited from one of these options. Solar PV not only benefits a business, but also benefits all of us by reducing greenhouse gas emissions while reducing power bills for other utility customers by reducing peak loads.
Kim Quirk also said something that is worth repeating, “We cannot make things better until we have first stopped making them worse.” We cannot fix everything all at once, so we must fix things one step at a time. Every PV installed is another step toward dealing with climate change.
In addition to the arrays pictured, a few of note are Woodlands at Harvest Hill in Lebanon, NH, which has a 180-kW solar array on the roof, saving $24,600 per year; the First Parish Church in Milton, MA; the Nashua Police League in Nashua, NH; and Graylag Natural Preserve in Pittsfield, NH.
ReVision Energy has offices in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. The company’s web site is www.revisionenergy.com.
Captions (photos coming):
AVA Gallery has a 41.1-kW solar array on two roof surfaces, for a saving of $9,700 per year. Photo by Gary Hall. All other photos are courtesy of ReVision Energy.
Claremont MakerSpace has a 57.9-kW solar array on the roof, for a savings of $7,100 per year. It offsets about 28,732 pounds per year of CO₂ emissions.
Claremont Soup Kitchen has a 27-kW solar array on the roof, saving it about $3200 per year. Notice that the array follows the curve of the roof.