Commercial solar is in the middle of a surge. The total number of solar capacity installed by US businesses more than doubled between 2019 and 2022, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Meanwhile, states and localities are readying new penalties on carbon emissions, and energy prices continue to be vulnerable to global disruptions.

But while solar’s time is increasingly “now”, property owners and developers who take a do-it-yourself approach can quickly find themselves adrift amid all the complexities, says Blair Herbert, CEO of Coast Energy. Instead, having a partner who works as a one-stop-shop to navigate the regulatory, installation, financing and operational hurdles can help owners and developers gain real NOI benefits more efficiently.

Solar’s Multilayered Complexities

Each step in a transition to renewable energy can be a project in and of itself: acquiring the financing, aligning with local laws, installing solar power arrays and energy storage systems, hooking up to the grid and monitoring the results. California now mandates solar power and energy storage. NYC, Boston and many areas in Southern California are assessing penalties on properties that fail to meet specific carbon-reduction targets.

On individual projects, Herbert notes, the complexity can be daunting, with a long time-frame that may find the real estate developer or owner losing steam over time. It can be even harder for owners with multi-state portfolios.

“If you have 100 properties in seven states, you can find yourself negotiating with 30 different counter-parties, all with different offerings and different ways they contract to do their services,” says Herbert.

“You have to negotiate separate agreements with all of them. It’s easy to end up with apples and oranges, confusion and frustration—and to lose the momentum to execute your strategy,” he adds.

Lower Cost, Higher NOI, More Capex

By negotiating a single contract across a portfolio with a vendor who knows the market and the process of installing and operating solar power, owners can avoid all of these headaches while sharing the benefits of economies of scale, Herbert notes. These benefits can include increasing a portfolio’s NOI and access to additional funds for capital expenditures unrelated to the solar power installation—all while lowering energy costs.

Blair says Coast Energy structures its contracts through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), which sets fixed costs for a term of up to 25 years and can provide an immediate cash infusion for the real estate owner.  Coast Energy finances, installs, owns and operates solar power systems for buildings and portfolios, all for no up-front cost, and power produced by Coast Energy’s system is sold to the real estate owner at a rate that’s typically less than the local utility rates.

“Owners can roll capex for non-energy projects into their solar energy project,” Herbert says. “NOI can increase more than $100K per year for a large property, at no upfront cost to the real estate owner.”

Clients can be initially skeptical that they can raise NOI and lower energy costs with a system that costs them nothing to install, he says, but he underscores that there’s a method to that as well.

“The system is eligible for tax credits and accelerated depreciation. Because we have an investor behind us that can efficiently monetize these benefits, it gives us a capital structure that allows us to pass through the benefits of lower energy costs and greatly increase NOI for the building,” Herbert explains.

I worry people won’t know what these numbers mean.  Maybe we say “…solar capacity installed by US businesses more than doubled between 2019 and 2022…”