Boston Community Capital is a community development financial intermediary whose mission is to create and preserve healthy communities where low–income people live and work. BCC’s Venture Fund makes equity investments in high–potential, emerging businesses that create a “double bottom line” of financial and social return to strengthen and build businesses that help to build healthy communities.
The Solar Energy Advantage Program is the first phase of BCC’s holistic process established to finance energy conservation, efficiency, renewable energy and environmental improvements for affordable housing. The Solar Energy Advantage Program installed 5,000 rooftop solar panels at five affordable housing facilities serving 1,000 families across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
All told, Borrego solar installed nearly a megawatt of solar capacity which at the time was equal to 17% of all the solar in Massachusetts. The Solar Energy Advantage Program will generate one million kilowatts hours of power annually, generating from 15-67% of each affordable housing development’s electricity (depending on the size and location of the project). In addition to stabilizing the properties’ energy costs, BCC’s program provides for the installation and maintenance of the solar panels at no additional cost to the affordable housing developments.
In this first phase of BCC’s Energy Advantage Program, nearly 1MW of solar photovoltaics was installed on five different locations serving over 3,000 residents throughout the state. The solar arrays range in size from an 80kW system on the Walden Square Affordable Housing complex in Cambridge to a 392kW system on the Mishawum Park Tenant Association development in Charlestown.
Borrego Solar was challenged to maximize available rooftop space while installing the arrays on multiple surfaces, at varying pitches within each complex. During the inaugural site evaluation, it became clear that some sites had more unobstructed space than others and each location had varying energy needs. Borrego’s team of affordable housing Project Developers was able to evaluate each location individually and determine which module/inverter combination was best suited for each installation. The power produced at each affordable housing complex offsets the common loads (ie: laundry facilities, hallway lighting, elevators, common area HVAC, etc.) allowing the development to keep the cost of the electricity down so it can continue to offer units to qualifying residents.
All five affordable housing developments are immediately taking advantage of their respective solar installations without any upfront capital thanks to a new solar financing model called a power purchase agreement (PPA). PPA’s are a form of third-party ownership in which a solar installation is financed and paid for by a third party owner/financer (BCC) and installed by a solar integrator (Borrego Solar) on a host site (in this case five different affordable housing complexes). Each of the host sites agreed to purchase the clean renewable electricity produced by their respective solar installations at a determined rate (usually equal or less than the current market utility rates) with fixed annual escalators over the course of a contract (usually 20 years). For the participating properties, their electricity rates will only increase by 1.25% each year, which is less than the historic annual average utility rate increases.
BCC is able to take full advantage of the available federal and state solar subsidies, while the affordable housing properties receive savings on their electricity bills immediately. BCC will recoup their investment through the sale of the energy produced by the solar installations, and in turn is required to maintain the systems and monitor the production data insuring maximum efficiency. Each site will have the ability to purchase the installations for a market buyout price at various stages over the life of the contract. Once the system is owned by the host site, they will effectively eliminate that portion of their bill. Financing commercial solar through a PPA allows customers to hedge against rising utility rates.