Solar Firm Urges Local Investors to Build Micro-Power Plants

East-Rochester-School-Solar-Array-630x442

A firm started by two Durham natives to fund solar projects recently added the East Rochester School to its portfolio, and is seeking local investors for more projects.

SunRaise finished its first project last year at the White Mountain School in Bethlehem. A solar array on the roof there will supply 43 kWs of electricity and educate students with a monitor in the hallway showing them how much power the system is generating.

Plymouth State University was the next project financed by SunRaise. Recently, a third site at the East Rochester School came on-line.

The firm is focusing on solar systems for schools and other non-profits. This is due to the educatonal part of its mission and because founders Patrick Jackson and Bobby Lambert are specializing in using government tax credits to put together a viable funding package for that sector of the market.

Jackson said there are a lot of firms competing now to fund and install commercial solar projects, but few if any focus on schools and nonprofit firms. SunRaise puts together a financing package that combines private local investors and banks with tax credits to make it feasible. It contracts with other local firms to install and maintain the systems.

It’s a complicated plan but one that gives local investors a “competitive” rate of return and cuts the host’s electric bill, Jackson said. An application on a mobile computer device lets investors track their project’s energy output in real time.

“It lets them invest in local, sustainable energy projects,” said Jackson.

The firm so far has 12 local investors in its projects, most putting up $50,000 each.

Kent Wommack, of Yarmouth, Maine, invested in the PSU project in Plymouth.

Wommack is an executive with the Nature Conservancy and was intrigued with he learned SunRaise was looking for small investors. The university project fit his environmental passion and offered an attractive return.

“It was not like buying a stock in a company that was doing lots of things. It lets you invest in something very concrete that has social and environmental benefits,” said Wommack.

He also liked the idea of supporting local entrepreneurs who are trying to make the world a better place.

Wommack said may be interested in investing in future projects with SunRaise.

At East Rochester School, the $250,000 project went operational in September. The 86.8-kW solar photovoltaic array should provide 44 percent of the elementary school’s electricity needs, which it will buy back from SunRaise under a purchase power agreement at a competitive electric rate.

After six years, the school district can purchase the solar system or continue buying from SunRaise. The firm had the solar system installed at no cost to the school.

A flat-screen monitor will eventually be located in the school’s lobby. It will track the performance of the solar array and serve as a real-time educational tool. Students going by can see the amount of electricity being produced and the positive environmental impact of the system.

Jackson said more projects are planned, including several larger ones in Maine next year. The firm will be looking for more investors and hopes to continue adding projects.

He envisions several hundred one day providing power to local schools and firms, which in turn will supply power to the larger electric grid but also make them almost self-sufficient.

He said solar systems are becoming widely accepted now and could change the area’s dependence on big power providers.

“If a storm shuts down Seabrook (nuclear plant), there should be no impact,” he said. “We’ll have local control over our energy supply.”

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