Solar Champion Stories

Mission-Aligned Housing in Keene

Written by Commercial Solar Designer Jen Stevenson Zepeda 

Working at a Certified B Corp like ReVision Energy means that not only do we have the opportunity and privilege of exploring projects with values-aligned partners, but we are encouraged to seek these partners out. Something beautiful happens when you can help a great organization add solar to their operations. It’s a win for the environment and a win for their bottom lines, with the low cost per kilowatt hour of solar energy helping them put those savings to good use.

One mission-aligned partner of ours has been Keene Housing, a nonprofit in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire providing affordable housing and support services to over 1,000 families, elders, and individuals with disabilities. The ReVision and Keene Housing relationship runs deep; we’ve completed over 430 kW of projects, with solar on 50 separate roofs, since 2017. And we have several other projects in the pipeline that will be constructed over the next year! Recently, we were able to do a Q+A with Executive Director Josh Meehan:

Keene Housing Solar Panels Grow Low Income Solar AccessJen: What drove Keene Housing’s decision to go solar? How did you come up with the impressive goal of being carbon neutral by 2035?

Josh: As a public housing authority, we rely almost entirely on federal funding and rent collection for operating income. The rents we can charge residents are capped, federal funding doesn’t typically keep up with inflation, and our portfolio is aging. Since we have little control on the income side of our business, we must focus on the cost side if we want to keep our properties in good shape for future generations. Reducing our energy costs is one of the few places that we can make investments now that will reduce our operating costs over the long haul. Establishing our goal of carbon neutrality by 2035 forced us to get aggressive, first about energy efficiency, and then later about energy production.

Jen: What are some takeaways you’ve gained about solar and the process having done multiple projects with ReVision now?

Josh: While we want to reduce our carbon footprint because we know it’s the right thing to do for our community and our collective future well-being, we only pursue deals that make economic sense for us. For example, if we need to make improvements to a building’s roof before we can install solar, we need to add that cost to our payback calculations; sometimes it makes sense, other times it doesn’t. We’ve also begun benefiting from changes in state and federal policy that are opening up new funding opportunities for developing solar projects that serve low-and moderate-income households, who make up 100% of the people we serve.

Keene Housing Block AJen: I know cashflow can be a concern for nonprofits considering the expense of adding solar panels. What thoughts do you have about the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) mechanism that has made these projects possible? 

Josh: Power Purchase Agreements allow you to get solar on your roofs at no cost, but the energy they produce isn’t free to you. Instead, you agree to purchase the energy they produce at an agreed upon rate that typically escalates each year. While those rates are usually less than the utility default rate, the path we’ve pursued is buying the arrays at the end of year 5, when the impact investors [who own the arrays] have exhausted their tax credits.

Once we’ve bought the arrays, we pay nothing for the energy they produce and sell excess energy back to the utility. The payback calculations we use upfront to determine whether to go ahead with a project or not take the Year 6 buyout cost and future energy production estimates into account as well as the cost of any capital improvements we need to make to our roofs to accommodate the solar arrays’ loads.

Our PPAs have worked out well so far, but right now we’re more focused on pursuing federal and state tax credits and grants whenever we can so that our solar projects are turnkey, with us owning them outright the day they come online. ReVision has been terrific about helping us pursue these new funding opportunities and are effective advocates for statutory and regulatory changes at the state level that make it easier for affordable providers like us to fund our solar projects.

keene housing drone resize.jpgJen: It’s pretty well documented that solar reduces operating costs and increases a building’s value. Have you noticed any other benefits that having solar brings? Are tenants noticing the benefits?

Josh: We provide the electricity for most of our tenants, so they don’t see a reduction in their costs when we reduce ours. However, because we’re a nonprofit, our savings are invested back into the properties in the form of capital improvements, which improve tenants’ quality of life, and extend the useful lives of the properties so that they will continue being high-quality affordable housing for future generations.

Jen: Any last thoughts? 

Josh: I think ReVision’s B Corp status and corporate culture position ReVision uniquely well to partner with organizations like ours. ReVision and Keene Housing both care deeply about making sure that traditionally marginalized groups benefit from renewable energy efforts just as much as affluent homeowners and for-profit businesses. They are always willing to take a chance on us, and they don’t mind that we’re learning as we go.