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Sun Shares Demonstrates New Approach to Community Solar

Oct 05, 2017

A new Vermont company with a unique approach to making solar energy available to more people celebrated the first month’s operation of its 200 kilowatt solar array on the roof of the Innovation Center at 128 Lakeside Avenue today. Many of the employees who work in the building are purchasing shares of the system’s energy output, which are credited against their home electric bills.

The project was coordinated by Sun Shares -- a new company started by Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) ‑- that brings the concept of community solar to the workplace by partnering with employers, facility owners, and local electric utilities to offer solar energy as an employee benefit to workers. VEIC employees are the first participants in this initial Sun Shares project.

The Sun Shares model allows employees of all income ranges and housing circumstances to participate in the benefits of solar energy, because they don't need to own the space where their panels are installed, invest their own money to have solar panels installed, or enter long-term solar contracts.

The Lakeside Avenue solar system is the first of three systems Sun Shares plans to develop in the next year, then use the experience gained from these projects for further expansion.

Vermont’s progressive renewable energy policies, forward-thinking distribution utilities, and socially-conscious employers make the Green Mountain State a fertile place to cultivate the Sun Shares approach, said David Hill, Sun Shares Project Lead and Distributed Resources Director at VEIC. Employers are in a position to make the benefits of renewable energy accessible to employees of all income levels who might otherwise be unable to afford to participate, providing a valuable benefit to employees while at the same time supporting their own corporate sustainability goals.

Sun Shares is partially funded by a grant from the Solar in Your Community Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

How it works

The Sun Shares model has three primary roles required for a successful project:

  1. Capital investors: To cover the cost of installing a solar system appropriately sized to meet the energy needs of all eligible, participating employees. Capital investment may come from the employer, the building owner, other third-party investors, or any combination of the three.
  2. Employer and employee members:Sun Shares works with the employer to build a partnership between an employer and its employees to share the benefits of the community solar array.Sun Shares provides all the services of system procurement and management, and assigns the monthly bill credits to the members. The employer acts as the “backstop” by agreeing to fund any unsubscribed shares of the system, and applying the associated credits to lower its own utility bill.
  3. Electric Utility: Sun Shares works directly with the local utility to which the system is connected to assure the participating employees and the employer receive the correct monthly bill credit, based on the system’s monthly solar electric generation.

Burlington Electric Department congratulates all the partners who made the Innovation Center’s Sun Shares rooftop community solar project possible, said Darren Springer, Chief Operating Officer at Burlington Electric Department. Burlington Electric is proud to offer programs like Solar Shopper that help our customers install solar on their own rooftops. However, not every home or business will have the right space for solar, making community projects like this one important for ensuring access to solar energy for all of our customers.

VEIC employees who live within the BED service territory were eligible to participate in the Sun Shares program, and more than 35 have enrolled in program. Sun Shares partnered with the building’s owner, Fortieth Burlington, LLC, who provided the majority of the capital funding to pay for the installation of the system.

VEIC is one of several companies that occupy office space within the Innovation Center. In the coming months, Sun Shares anticipates inviting other employers in the Innovation Center to offer the solar benefit to their employees as well.

The Innovation Center is a fitting site for this first-of-its-kind program. It increases the value of this space to our tenants who are looking for new ways to engage with their employees and offer innovative benefits to attract top talent, said Hank Stevens on behalf of Innovation Center owner Fortieth Burlington. With support from Sun Shares, the details of sizing and overseeing installation of the solar panels, coordinating with BED, and lining up employee participants was all taken care of, making the final decision to make this investment very straightforward.

Employees participating in the Sun Shares program at the Innovation Center joined with the project partners today to celebrate the commissioning of the solar system, including tours to the rooftop of the four-story brick building that was built as a cotton mill in 1894.

About Sun Shares

Sun Shares is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, formed to bring the innovative concept of community solar to the employer/employee benefit sector. Sun Shares seeks to increase the ability of low- and moderate-income households to use solar photovoltaics, for whom solar has largely been out of reach, and to use solar power to reduce energy costs and the negative environmental impacts of fossil fuel use.

About VEIC

The Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) is a mission-driven nonprofit organization founded in 1986, to act with urgency to enhance the economic, environmental, and societal benefits of clean and efficient energy use for all people.

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