May 10, 2012

Big Solar Player Enters MetroWest Market

Thanks to incentives that can mean serious profits for investors and developers, Massachusetts has become one of the most attractive solar energy markets in the country.

An entire sector of firms that design, install and service solar energy systems has cropped up because of it. And this month, a national player threw its hat into the ring in MetroWest.

SolarCity, a major installer based in California, opened its doors in Marlborough, where it will compete with more than a dozen other solar companies doing business in the region.

SolarCity has offices in 13 states and has residential and commercial leasing programs backed by $1.4 billion in investment from major banks and companies.

"You can essentially install solar for free and pay for the solar electricity you generate at a discount," said Jonathan Bass, SolarCity's communications director.

Its solar leasing program, the largest in the United States, is backed by $1.4 billion in investment from major banks and companies, Bass said. That includes an investment from Google of more than $200 million.

Growth, Hiring Planned

SolarCity first entered the Massachusetts market about a year ago, when it acquired the residential leasing business of groSolar, a Vermont-based company with operations in Massachusetts and other states.

SolarCity has grown its Massachusetts workforce from 15 to 45 employees since the acquisition, and is looking to hire 30 more from the local area.

The company's new offices are on Saint Martin Drive. SolarCity consolidated its previous space in Raynham and Billerica.

"It just made sense to move into a larger facility that could accommodate our crews," Bass said.

The solar installation market may seem crowded, but there are plenty of homes and businesses without solar systems.

Bass said SolarCity hopes its full range of services – including solar design, installation, insurance, maintenance, and recently added energy efficiency programs – will give the company an edge in Massachusetts.

Changes to state law in the past few years have created financial incentives for solar investments in Massachusetts. Under leasing agreements, property owners can avoid any upfront investment, and sign a contract to purchase the generated electricity at a discounted rate. Under that arrangement, the installer makes the upfront investment, services the system, and gets to keep the solar credits that are generated. Utility companies in Massachusetts are required to purchase the so-called SRECs, which sell for more than $500 each. Prices will go down as more megawatts of solar capacity are installed in the state.

Asked about the attractiveness of the Massachusetts market for SolarCity, Bass was unable to discuss future growth projections, but did allow that the Bay State is a place where SolarCity sees opportunity.

"I think solar is an attractive investment for customers in Massachusetts," he said. "I can say that."

SolarCity has installed systems on 800 homes and business in the state. With big money behind it, that number is sure to grow.

Image credit:enjith krishnan

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