In this episode of the Contractor’s Corner podcast, community solar customer manager Perch Energy talks about the role software plays in making this solar segment accessible to those who can’t install arrays on their rooftops. Developers in this unique space often choose to outsource customer management due to the logistical complexity of numerous offtakers on one project.
An edited portion of the interview is below, but be sure to listen to the full podcast for more insight on the policy changes needed to expand community solar for low- and middle-income customers across the country.
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SPW: So Perch Energy was launched by Blue Wave Solar. Can you tell me about why Blue Wave saw the need to start a community solar subscription arm?
Georgina Arreola, VP of policy: Blue Wave Solar started a servicing arm for community solar back in 2017, because at the time, community solar was a bit new. They were developing these first community solar projects and saw the need to actually obtain customers and then manage that lifecycle. Since 2018, they started also managing projects for other clients, and then in 2020, Blue Wave decided to spin out the business, so Blue Wave Community Solar became its own entity, and we rebranded as Perch Energy in 2022.
Can you talk to me about why a community solar management and subscription platform is a necessity in that ecosystem?
Sencelia Reynolds, chief operating officer: The platform is super important because in today’s age, you want to make sure that you are leveraging technology in every way possible to not only acquire customers, but to manage them effectively. So you want to make sure that your platform is creating the opportunity for our clients and customers to do business with you in the easiest way possible. We’ve done a lot of work in terms of leveraging technology that we had in the past when we used to do switching, servicing, to be able to acquire customers, make sure that we are providing them with the right information.
We also provide portal access as well, which keeps customers in tune with what’s happening even before they’re tied to a solar farm. And then when it comes time, the customer is tied to a project and actually receiving credits that are being transferred to them. They can make payments, we can communicate with customers. That makes it really easy and error-free and transparent for customers to do business with us.
Let’s talk about where the IRA fits in here. There are numerous adders that definitely seem to apply to the community solar market specifically. How is Perch planning on taking advantage of those different incentives?
Arreola: What you’re referencing primarily is the potential for up to a 20% bonus ITC if you enroll a minimum of 50% low-income consumers into the project. We’re already seeing a lot of asset owners that have a desire to try to claim that additional 20% ITC. So our role within that is making sure that we’re finding those low-income customers that are good-quality customers that will stay on the project for a long time. So we’re working with asset owners to identify what’s the best customer mix for them and then actually going out and finding those and where there might be some regulatory hurdles into actually enrolling customers. We’re currently working through the comment process with the IRS and other individuals that are putting the guidance together so that we can set up the rules properly to ensure that customers are able to enroll successfully and equally in these communities or projects.
I know that state policy is crucial. Even when we have great federal policy, we need states to pass enabling legislation. How do you see the current status of the state policy and where do you see it going with the IRA passage?
Arreola: The state policy aligning with the federal rules is the key to success, especially for this IRA package. Currently, there is a lot of variability between how the low-income individual is defined at the state level across every state and how an individual can prove that they actually qualify and are eligible to enroll. We’ve been encouraging the federal government to establish a rule that’s easy to implement across the board, and then also working with states that actually update their current rules and make sure that whatever standard is adopted at the federal level will be honored for the state programs as well.
Do you think there is going to be a domino effect within the states as the IRA really takes effect?
Arreola: Yes, and you’re already starting to see that. California is a great example where, in record time, they passed legislation to enable community solar at a wider level and within the writing of that bill, they actually inserted [something like], ‘Whatever the federal standard is, that’s how we’ll run this program.’
And then we’re also seeing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, which have been on the cusp of joining the community solar revolution for a number of years, but haven’t quite gotten there. All of a sudden, it seems like everybody’s got their foot on the gas pedal and they’re trying to take advantage of the federal funding that’s available to the greatest extent possible.