Why Pa. should become a ‘community solar’ state

By Steve Raeder, Contributing Writer

Pennsylvania’s legislators have been hard at work in recent weeks as they grapple with challenges facing the commonwealth as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Just about every industry is struggling, but community solar could bring a bright spot of economic opportunity to Pennsylvania if HB 531 and SB 705 were to pass the General Assembly.

Enabling community solar programs would inject billions of dollars in economic investment, generate local tax revenue and jobs and create an income stream for hard-hit farmers. There has never been a more important time to seize upon the benefits of community solar for Pennsylvania than right now.

Community solar arrangements allow customers to buy solar bill credits from a remotely sited solar installation to reduce their monthly utility costs. Not everyone can put solar panels on their own property, especially if they are renters. The scale of community solar allows hundreds of customers to purchase bill credits from a single project, increasing access to clean, renewable energy as well as improving the energy choices available to consumers. There is no cost to taxpayers or to local governments. Rather, community solar brings income to local communities as well as energy savings.

Summit Ridge Energy (SRE) is a member of the Coalition for Community Solar Access and a group of 30 companies working to create a strong community solar market in the commonwealth that will truly boost the broader economy. Our company is one of the largest developers of community solar projects in the nation and we are committed to this model because of its proven success in generating value for consumers, landowners and local governments. Community solar is already allowed in 20 states, and Pennsylvania could be next to join those ranks.

In Illinois, where community solar was recently enacted, SRE’s fleet of 40 community solar systems is expected to reduce electricity bills for approximately 15,000 residential customers. To build and service these assets will require the skill of some 1,200 tradesmen, hundreds of whom have already been engaged. When construction activities have been completed, dozens of these jobs will transition into long term contracts to operate and maintain each system. And over the next 20 years, each system will generate $7.4 million in aggregate tax revenue across 20

Illinois counties in addition to $15.8 million in rental income for the farmers we’ve leased land from.

Farmers are the perfect partners to host community solar projects. They have the fields and open spaces to accommodate panels that most property owners do not have. Thousands of farmers already use solar energy on their farms to reduce their own energy costs and increase their energy independence and resilience. In Pennsylvania, SRE has or will have leases with farmers in Dauphin, Lancaster, Adams and Cumberland counties just waiting to go live.

Farmers can benefit from the steady and predictable stream of revenue that leasing their land to community solar projects can provide. As restaurants and institutional purchasers of milk, produce and meat have scaled back or totally eliminated orders, farmers need and deserve opportunities that can help them generate lost income. Community solar can do that in Pennsylvania, very quickly, and for the long term, if HB 531 and SB 705 are passed.

Community solar offers tangible, near term benefits in the form of tax revenue for local communities, rental income for local farmers, savings on electricity for local residents and jobs for local trades. An analysis by Vote Solar using National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) modeling found that passing community solar legislation in Pennsylvania would generate $2.08 billion in local economic benefits along with $210 million in local property tax revenues and create a 75% increase in solar jobs within the commonwealth. Now is the time to support industries like solar that can bring jobs back to Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania legislators on both sides of the aisle have already recognized that community solar would be positive for the commonwealth, having introduced HB 531 and SB 705 earlier this year, before the effects of the pandemic had ever been felt. Their leadership to pass the bills now can make these economic benefits a reality for thousands of Pennsylvanians.

Steve Raeder is CEO of Summit Ridge Energy, a leading U.S. developer and financier of community solar assets.

Summit Ridge and 1st Source Bank expand partnership in debt and tax equity deal

Summit Ridge Energy (“SRE”) and 1st Source Bank today announced the expansion of their partnership through the bank’s commitment to provide debt and tax equity to fund an additional 8 of SRE’s Illinois community solar projects totaling 23 MWdc.

“We’re looking forward to continuing our debt and tax equity partnership with 1st Source Bank, which has proven successful since launching in March of this year,” said Adam Kuehne, Chief Investment Officer of SRE. “Despite the ramifications of COVID-19, we have collectively put a significant amount of capital to work in a short period of time, providing meaningful savings to residential customers in Illinois.”

“We’re pleased to continue our partnership with Summit Ridge Energy and to provide our services on these solar projects,” states Russell Cramer, VP, Solar Financing. “1st Source is a relationship bank, and we are always grateful to deepen the relationship with our clients when the opportunity arises. We’re very pleased to aid in providing Illinois communities with sustainable energy sources.”

1st Source Bank previously provided construction debt, term debt and tax equity to 5 of SRE’s Illinois community solar projects, including its Fulton project, which was the first community solar project to become operational in Ameren territory when it was energized in June. 1st Source Bank provided tax equity to this project in partnership with its co-investment partner, Nelnet, Inc. The remaining projects will become operational between the third quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021. In total, the 13 projects will enable approximately 6,400 residential customers across the Ameren and ComEd service territories to receive the benefits of community solar, including savings on their electricity bills.

The 1st Source partnership has proven complementary to SRE’s existing joint venture funding platform, through which SRE owns a total of 36 Illinois community solar projects.

Summit Ridge currently has 23 projects under construction across the United States with another 18 set to break ground by year’s end representing approximately 145 MW of community solar that will be operational by Q3 2021. Projected annual cost savings for residential customers subscribing to these projects is more than $1,000,000.

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, community solar remains the fastest growing segment within the U.S. solar market driven largely by predictable customer savings without the need to physically install solar on one’s home or business.

SEIA reports that with the right federal and state policies in place, the solar industry will employ more than half a million Americans by 2025.

About Summit Ridge Energy

Summit Ridge Energy is the leading owner-operator of U.S. community solar projects. The team has been a strong force within the U.S. commercial solar market for years and was instrumental in the creation of “virtual” solar power purchase agreements and associated financing structures. Summit Ridge Energy has leveraged this experience to launch Summit Ridge Capital, a dedicated funding platform that acquires pre-operational projects within the rapidly growing community solar energy sector. Follow Summit Ridge Energy on LinkedIn and Twitter for updates, or learn more at srenergy.com.

About 1st Source

1st Source Corporation, parent company of 1st Source Bank, has assets of $7.4 billion and is the largest locally controlled financial institution headquartered in the northern Indiana-southwestern Michigan area. The Corporation includes 80 banking centers, 15 1st Source Bank Specialty Finance Group locations nationwide, eight Trust and Wealth Advisory Services locations and ten 1st Source Insurance offices. For more than 155 years, 1st Source has been committed to our mission of helping our clients achieve security, build wealth and realize their dreams. For more information, visit www.1stsource.com.

About Nelnet, Inc.

Nelnet (NYSE: NNI) is a diversified and innovative company focused on offering educational services, technology solutions, telecommunications, and asset management, operating from four major divisions: Nelnet Diversified Services, Nelnet Business Services, Nelnet Communications Services, and Nelnet Financial Services. Nelnet helps students and families plan and pay for their education and makes the administrative processes for schools more efficient with student loan servicing, tuition payment processing, school administration software, and college planning resources. With its acquisition of ALLO Communications, Nelnet also offers fiber-optic services directly to homes and businesses for ultra-fast fiber internet, television, and telephone services. The company also makes investments in real estate developments, renewable energy projects, and new ventures. For more information, visit nelnetinc.com.