Blog : NH Solar Garden Helps Customers Net Profits

By Craig | Dec 31, 2014 | in

By Mark Quirk

Andrew Kellar was way off his mark when he estimated his new company, NH Solar Garden, would work on about 1 megawatt worth of projects in its first year. Not even close.

Today, after opening the business last January, NH Solar Garden is working on 22 projects around the state that when done will produce close to 7 megawatts of power for its customers. Business has been booming, thanks in part to a favorable new law passed by the state earlier this year that allows for group net metering.

“This has been much further beyond my expectations,” Kellar said.

In fact, Kellar said his company has developed as many megawatts in its projects over the past seven months as the state has in the past seven years. NH Solar Garden, which tries to keep all of its business dealings local, is pumping money as well as clean energy into the local community.

“That's one of the important pieces to the process, to feed the local economy,” Kellar said.

Known as the SB 98 law, this piece of legislature was signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan in June of 2013 and went into effect in July of that year. Essentially, with the group net metering law, somebody builds a host site - a central location - which will produce a certain amount of power. If that array produces more power than the host site needs, the host site can sell off that excess power to customers at a profit of up to fifteen cents per kWh.

NH Solar Garden's role is to help facilitate the production of solar arrays around the state. They work as a developer by making sure all the paperwork such as permits and approvals are in place to build an array. They then sub that work out to a company to build a solar array at the host site. Individuals and companies that join NH Solar Garden as group members can benefit from the power being produced by the array by buying it for one cent less per kilowatt hour than their utility provider.

For example, if the utility is charging nine cents per kilowatt hour NH Solar Garden will charge eight cents. The same energy being delivered the same way, it's just coming to the customer at a lower price.

The group of customers must be default service customers of the same electric distribution utility as the host. The host must also provide a list of the group members to that Public Utility Commission and the electric distribution utility, and must certify that all members of the group have an agreement with the host.

Any costs necessary to upgrade a utility’s information systems for billing purposes associated with virtual net metering must be paid by the group host. The PUC will be establishing the process for registering hosts, including periodic re-registration, and the process by which changes in membership are allowed and administered.

The bill's primary sponsor is State Sen. Molly M. Kelly (Dem., Dist. 10). It was originally introduced on Jan. 3, 2013, and amended four times before being signed by Gov. Hassan.

The power produced by NH Solar Garden host sites goes to the same infrastructure already being used by the big utilities in the state. The electricity travels through traditional means, entering homes and businesses through the property's existing wiring. Its biggest difference is the price, which is lower.

“They have the same electrons flowing through their house, but also the financial benefit,” Kellar said. “You're getting paid to support community solar in our state.”

The company is currently working on 22 host sites in the state ranging from 20 kilowatt hours to 900 kilowatt hours. The most a host site can produce per state regulations is 1 megawatt or 1,000 kilowatts. That success has led to more work for other businesses in the local economy including Vitex Extrusions of Franklin, from which NH Solar Gardens receives its aluminum rails.

Most of the arrays are built at locations like farms, schools and landfills. NH Solar Garden's largest project, a 900 kilowatt array, is currently being built on a landfill in Milton.

Arrays don't impact the aesthetic value of a property either. Kellar said they are “low profile,” at most four to five feet off the ground. They can easily be hidden behind a fence and most are built on land with little value like a landfill or an unused portion of a farm. But so far Keller hasn't encountered a problem about building the arrays from communities.

“We have not had any major push back,” Kellar said.

Kellar admits it costs more to generate solar power compared to fossil fuels like coal or gas. Improvements in technology such as more efficient panels are making it more cost effective, however, and one of his goals is to be on the leading edge of developing the product.

“We're creeping down (in price). Solar in some states can work,” Kellar said. “We've been working really hard to drive the price down. We're getting really close.”

In addition to NH Solar Garden's sustainable methods and practices they've also partnered with the Green Alliance, a union of local, sustainable businesses and members working to unite the green community.

Since starting NH Solar Garden in January, Kellar has already doubled the size of his company by hiring additional employees and plans on bringing on more workers soon. All those extra projects also means more work for the subcontractors who build the solar arrays, the people they sub out to and the manufacturers providing the supplies.

NH Solar Garden is also seeking group members and host locations for next year.

Green Alliance members get a biannual 1.5 cents per kWh solar rebate with NH Solar Gardens! Not a member? Join here!