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New England Program Helps Low-Income Communities Join the Green Energy Revolution

Revision Energy is partnering with impact investors and CDFIs to make solar power more accessible to housing cooperatives and other community nonprofits. 

By Hadassah Patterson

In the last two years, utility costs have seen a steady increase, particularly in New England, which already boasts some of the highest electric costs in the country. In New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island, residential electricity increased by at least $.03 per kilowatt hour from December 2020-2021. Deregulation in many states such as New Hampshire keeps consumers in the driver's seat by promoting competitive pricing and consumer choice over monopolization by energy providers. 

In light of that ever-increasing cost, New Hampshire-based Revision Energy is aiming to make affordable solar energy more accessible to low-income residents. The program both allows investors to reap tax benefits and resident-owned cooperatives to purchase solar equipment for monthly savings.

Dan Weeks, vice president of business development at Revision Energy, described the program as an “energy endowment.” They partner with philanthropists, impact investors and lenders such as CDFI Community Loan Fund to build the endowment and provide capital loans to nonprofits.

“Solar has upfront cost and long-term benefit for a community nonprofit that doesn't have a lot of money lying around,” Weeks says. “They need help to overcome that cost to reap the benefit of owning their power.”

One innovative partnership between the Community Loan Fund and Revision Energy is aimed at serving resident-owned housing cooperatives (ROCs), communities of mobile home owners who purchase the land their homes reside on. New Hampshire contains 140 ROCs, according to Tara Reardon, the vice president of Revision Energy’s ROC program.

“Part of the mission is to serve people who can't access capital routinely, not to only solve environmental problems,” Reardon says. “And that's where we intersect really nicely.”

Revision brings the parts together — helping connect the funding partner with the nonprofit, installing the solar system and performing the maintenance required. After five years, the partner turns the system over to the nonprofit, either as a donation or at a significantly reduced cost — less than the cost to build the system in the first place. The program enables the organization or community to become less dependent on electric company’s grids, or in many cases, even completely independent from it. 

“Revision helps the community to gain the grants and educates the residents in the community about what kind of reporting has to be done afterwards,” Reardon says.

Reardon says that during community meetings in the first communities they worked with, residents reported individual savings of $20 a month. In resident owned-communities, the mobile home owners pay lot rent to their cooperative with an elected or appointed board. By law, the board cannot charge a profit or interest for electricity, so any savings generated passes directly to homeowners.  

The arrangement is made possible by an instrument called a Power Purchase Agreement or PPA.

“As the name suggests, the nonprofit purchases the power from the solar array, buying clean electricity for less than they pay the utility for that same power,” Weeks says. “That allows investors to cover the customer, in addition to the benefit of the solar tax credit.”

Now nearing its 20th anniversary, Revision Energy has installed more than 12,000 solar arrays, including 8,000 solar systems and over 4,000 complimentary systems like for electric vehicles. In addition to their partnership with the Community Loan Fund, they partner with other funders and investors on PPA projects, including soup kitchens, schools and churches.

“The savings over the life of the PPA project can range from six figures to high seven figures — up to millions of dollars over the lifetime of the system,” Weeks says. “We know solar electricity is the cheapest form on earth. I like to say I'm blessed to be in an industry where the fuel source is free.”

Weeks is quick to point out that the business model is a sustainable one as well. The clean energy industry is profitable enough to provide living wages with good benefits and generate profit for investors. They are a certified B corporation with an employee-ownership model. They have over 350 employee-owners and are working to hire 40 more.

“What excites me is there's so much opportunity to add jobs, good jobs that people can feel good about and earn a good income working,” Weeks says. “Across the country we are seeing growth. It gives one a sense of pride and dignity… We hope part of this transition is not just cutting pollution, but extending economic opportunities and fairness.”

This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lenses of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is developed in partnership with Next City.