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Developer commits $100M to Del. community solar

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A Denver-based developer intends to invest more than $100 million in a dozen projects in Delaware over the next three years. | PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIANA PRONECA/UNSPLASH

A national solar developer has set its eyes on Delaware following the loosening of community solar regulations here, seeking to invest more than $100 million in a dozen projects statewide.

TurningPoint Energy (TPE), an 8-year-old, Denver-based firm that develops and sells a considerable number of solar farms around the country, announced recently that it was turning its attention to the First State for its next batch of projects. Specifically, it’s looking here due to the passage of Senate Bill 2 in 2021, which increased the allowable size of community solar projects and removed program restrictions.

Unlike commercial-grade projects that could produce upwards of 100 megawatts of power, community solar projects are intentionally smaller in scale – the maximum allowable output is now 4 megawatts – and aimed to sell power directly back to consumers rather than to large corporate buyers.

Homeowners can opt into the power purchase program to reap the benefits of solar without installing an array themselves, and they lock in rates for extended periods of time, assuring a developer of their return on investment.

Where exactly its 12 projects will be sited in Delaware remains to be seen, although they have prospective sites in all three counties and they will range between 2 and 4 megawatts, according to Salar Naini, executive vice president of TPE. It has land lease options on an 87-acre farm and a 173-acre farm in Smyrna, according to New Castle County land records.

A portion of those 12 projects will begin to come online in the second half of 2023, with the remainder powering on in 2024 or 2025, Naini said.

“We look for a number of different traits to identify target sites,” Naini told Delaware Business Times, noting that wetlands, floodplains, grade and more contribute to site selection. “I think our sweet spot is around the 20- to 35-acre range, depending on what specific constraints we have on the site.”

On average, about 350 homeowners could tap into a 1 megawatt of generated solar power, meaning more than 1,000 homes could benefit from some of TPE’s projects. In total, the Delaware projects will offset the equivalent of over 150.3 million pounds of atmospheric carbon each year.

Nationwide, TPE has completed about 2 gigawatts of solar power worth a total $3 billion, Naini said. The firm originally began by developing commercial-grade projects but has increasingly focused on the small community solar projects since it entered Maryland’s market in 2016.

It is independently owned, unlike a number of similar development firms that are owned by private equity firms. TPE front funds the development of projects with some investment partners and then sells portfolios of completed assets to investors, Naini said.

Also, unlike some of its competitors, TPE places a premium on reaching historically disadvantaged groups and supporting the communities where it builds. It plans to make contributions to a number of Delaware charities and nonprofits totaling more than $150,000.

“Part of SB2 was the requirement that at least 15% of all customers are low-income customers. So that policy that was implemented to fix the program, the stakeholder engagement, and the diverse group that all had feedback in the process: those were all reasons that eventually led to us prioritizing Delaware above a lot of other markets we were looking at to make the investments that we’re making today,” Naini said.

 

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