“We’re really focused on addressing what we see as a niche opportunity in the C&I solar market,” Evan Riley, CEO of White Pine Renewables, told pv magazine. “In this market segment, it’s harder to do projects than in the utility-scale sector or in the residential sector, because, for one, our customers often don’t have investment-grade credit ratings, like in the utility-grade sector, which makes financing more difficult. Two, our customers don’t have FICO scores like in residential solar. And three, our projects tend to be around 1 MW in size which is a size that is difficult for larger utility scale or residential scale companies to develop, so, in this market segment, we’ve seen much slower growth and we see more market opportunity to add value.”
Size and scope
That added value comes in the form of the projects that they’re looking to develop, finance, build, own and operate, which are much larger than one might be used to in the C&I sector. The company officially states that they’re looking to develop commercial, industrial and public-sector projects ranging from 1 MW to 20 MW DC, though, when speaking with Riley and White Pine President Dylan Dupre, the two shared that 20 MW was a soft cap, and they’re confident in their company’s ability to develop projects up to 60 MW.
“Where we’re drawing the line is simply on-site solar and storage, behind-the-meter,” said Riley. “We’re building a solar or solar-plus-storage plant directly at our customer’s facility and then we’re selling electricity to them directly, while providing other services to them, like resiliency. It doesn’t really matter how large or small the project is. There’s really no upper limit on customer size.”
Not only will White Pine develop projects for customers, but the power generated is sold through power purchase agreements (PPA), which means that White Pine acts as the installation’s owner-operator throughout its lifetime. They’re responsible for the operations and maintenance of each project, something that Riley and Dupre say shows the confidence that they have in their development abilities.
“We don’t get paid if our projects don’t perform,” said Riley.
A distinct advantage that these projects offer, one which Riley was quick to point out, is that White Pine and their customers don’t have to go through utilities to deliver power. The plant is where the load is and where the energy buyer is. This significantly decreases any potential transmission and distribution strain that could be associated with White Pine’s larger projects.
Where will these large C&I projects be located? To start, White Pine is launching in California and the Midwest. The company is located in the Bay Area and Riley is from Michigan. Mat Riley, located in Michigan, is a principal at White Pine and leading Midwest development.
“That’s the key: you have to be able to find those energy-intensive businesses,” said Dupre “We’re fortunate here in California to have the fifth-largest economy in the world. We have everything from mining to food processing to automotive manufacturing and semiconductors. There are a number of different market segments we look at when we start to break up the C&I market.”
2021 and beyond
White Pine Renewables is currently overseeing 10 MW of solar projects under construction in California and Michigan that are on schedule to begin operation in 2020, a number that the company is looking to triple, if not expand on exponentially in 2021.
“We’ve put a ton of work into setting up our 2021,” Riley shared. Right now we’re looking, at a minimum, at doubling to tripling the capacity we install. Next year we’ll be doing a minimum of 20 MW to 30 MW, but I’d love to do 50 MW. We have, in our development pipeline, roughly 100 MW of projects that are in various stages of development. Of those we have confirmed and signed PPAs for 25 MW, so that’s kind of the minimum that we’ll build next year.”
“30 is a good number,” Dupre quickly added.
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