By Michael McCord
How do I get involved? It’s a question asked by consumers who want to use locally generated clean energy but can’t put a solar panel or array on their roof or in their backyard.
Andrew Kellar has started an innovative company that provides a distinctly New Hampshire answer to the question. Kellar is the founder of NhSolarGarden and he has high ambitions to transform the solar energy industry throughout the state. The plan is to create a decentralized and entrepreneurial approach that could have a dramatic multiplier impact on local economies, lead to greater land conservation and boost sustainable agriculture.
“The key to supporting a growing infrastructure and distributed solar generation across the state is to use the grid at a local level,” Kellar said.
Consumers can become members of NhSolarGarden at no cost and buy energy generated by the company’s solar placements. They will get bi-annual solar rebates while simultaneously supporting local farmers and landowners who lease their land for the solar installations.
“Part of our core mission is to help farmers,” Kellar explained. “We want to utilize existing farmland and boost the cash flow for farmers while combining local food and local energy. The issues of economic growth, alternative energy development, and promoting a sustainable environment are all connected, and we can’t wait for solutions to come from government or large corporations.”
How does it logistically work? Because of the recently passed group net metering law in New Hampshire, Kellar cannot sell his solar energy directly to consumers through utility companies. But his company can develop a solar array to power one location (known as a “host” area) and share the value of the excess power with another location (residential, businesses, schools or towns’ members who form “groups” to share the value of the solar energy from the host in their area) through utilities such as PSNH and Unitil that service the host area. “We call this our solar rebate,” Kellar said. For hosts and members alike, NhSolarGarden handles all the development and equipment costs and utility logistics.
A growing number of similar projects have taken hold throughout the country, including Massachusetts, but Kellar said no state has inspired him more than Colorado, which has been wildly successful with direct solar-energy distribution. Consumers there can buy a solar panel or an entire array in one advantageous geographical location in the state and have the electricity generated delivered directly to their homes or businesses. Though New Hampshire law is far more restrictive than Colorado due to the state’s utility and regulatory infrastructure, Kellar said his business model is tailor-made to take advantage of Yankee entrepreneurial ingenuity.
“Of course we would like a few large host locations and hope to develop some large anchor hosts,” Kellar said. “But we are also seeking landowners with as little as 7,000 square feet of land or roof space to become hosts. We can properly place arrays in a number of different places, including malls, self-storage facilities, mill buildings and warehouse rooftops, for example.”
Kellar said they have sites identified totaling 1 MW around the state, that will create enough power for over 350 homes — the first step toward the bigger mission of the company. “We believe people will embrace this model when they understand that even a rooftop array can generate 91,000kW of clean energy,” Kellar said. “We want hosts of all sizes so we can create a dynamic, growing network.”
Kellar has succeeded before in merging sustainability with innovative business fundamentals. He founded the biodiesel fuel company Simply Green to give consumers cleaner fuel choices. Kellar was also an original co-founder of the Green Alliance, a union of local, sustainable businesses promoting environmentally sound business practices and a green co-op offering discounted green products and services to its members.
Both interested members and potential solar garden hosts can easily sign up at www.nhsolargarden.com.
NhSolarGarden is a Business Partner of the Green Alliance. Green Alliance members can buy locally generated solar energy and get a 2-cent-per-kWh discount by becoming a member of NhSolarGarden. That would amount to an estimated $100 per year based on the typical home usage of 5,000kWh per year.
Michael McCord is a writer for Green Alliance. www.greenalliance.biz.