The Biden Administration sees community solar as a key ingredient to decarbonizing the electric grid in a way that’s equitable for all. The Dept. of Energy set a goal in 2021 for these systems to power the equivalent of five million households by 2025. Developers are ready to meet the moment but are held back by state-level regulations against community solar.
Summit Ridge Energy is one community solar contractor that’s firing on all cylinders in the markets open to development. With a lean team of only around 115 people, this company has a large portfolio of ground-mount and rooftop solar projects completed and many more in the works.
An edited portion of this Contractor’s Corner interview is below, but be sure to listen to the full podcast for more insight on how IRA bonus credits could drive solar investments for low-and-moderate-income communities.
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SPW: You have had quite the high-profile year so far with your deal with Qcells. Tell me about this announcement that involved Vice President Kamala Harris.
Steve Raeder, founder and CEO: We’ve had a pretty neat year, but the Vice President attending the event in Dalton, Georgia, was a great surprise, and one that was welcomed. We’ve been a customer of Qcells for years at this point, and had been working on the 1.2-GW [module supply] commitment from them for probably the past year. So it was great to get down there and make the announcement.
Tell me more about the deal with Qcells.
Ninety percent of the 1.2 GW that we agreed to purchase from Qcells will be coming from the U.S., from either their Dalton facility or [their new] factory just south of Dalton that should be online sometime in 2024. So, mostly bifacial modules that will be used for ground-mount systems, but we’re working with Qcells as well to diversify within the broader order to hopefully get some modules that are more applicable to rooftop systems.
How does that solve supply chain issues that the industry has been plagued with? Does setting up a partnership like this ease some headaches?
It does. We’ve been able to navigate those waters fairly well by procuring modules from Qcells out of Korea for quite some time now, but having the modules manufactured and shipped within the U.S. absolutely logistically is much easier than having modules shipped from overseas. Not only are we supportive of it from a manufacturing perspective, from an American content perspective, a job creation perspective, but logistically it’s a whole lot easier, and I think there’s a lot more certainty in terms of timing as to when we can get the modules delivered.
What has been the most rewarding moment of your career at Summit Ridge so far?
I had some time to reflect after the Apollo transaction. Certainly, having a company like Apollo come in and make a minority investment in Summit Ridge was validation of some of the things we’ve done over the past five, six years. Just a fantastic group of folks, consummate professionals who did their homework on us in a big way.
We’ve also made a large investment in the Sustainability Hub in Chicago — that’s in partnership with 548 Enterprise and Power52. I think we feel really good about that one, and that it aligns with our mission and our culture of execution. It’s not just talking about energy equity and providing savings for folks, but providing job training, providing skills that that they can use to carry on and create careers in an industry that’s built to last.
The intent is to use those folks to help install our systems, specifically in Chicago. We’ve got a very large portfolio of over 100 rooftop systems that we plan on installing over the next couple of years in Chicago-proper. I think the program is working as expected, and these are just the first 20 to 25 students of what will hopefully be thousands over the next few years.
Tell me about the community solar landscape in this country at the moment and where you’d like to see it go.
The sandbox is too small. We’re very busy, but we’re by no means active in 50 states. It’s under a dozen, and frankly, for lack of a better description, the sandbox has remained the same size for quite some time. There haven’t been too many large, wide-open community solar markets that have launched over the past couple of years. I think there are some markets that have been on the tipping point for several years — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and others. I think now’s the time, with the rollout of the IRA.
I think we are perfectly positioned to benefit from various components of the IRA, in terms of being able to build more systems in new markets and to provide greater savings and more savings to more customers. But we’re still in TBD mode in terms of how that’s rolled out. Hopefully that pushes some of the states that I just mentioned and others over the fence to open up new markets and participate.