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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, March 18, 2013, 6:20 am

Vivint Solar sees bright future in North Bay

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    SANTA ROSA — A newcomer to the no-upfront-cost residential solar energy market, but affiliated with a company that has national experience with home security, energy-management and automation systems, has opened a North Bay installation hub, one of three in the Bay Area as the company rapidly expands locally.

    Vivint Solar Developers, LLC, (877-404-4129, vivintsolar.com) in December opened a nearly 11,000-square-foot warehouse in Santa Rosa as a base for about a half-dozen electricians plus support staff, according to Jason Deelstra, marketing director.

    Vivint Solar installation in Santa Rosa

    Vivint Solar installation teams have dozens of Santa Rosa–area projects such as the one above in Santa Rosa and the one below in Sebastopol since they started jobs in January.

    He wouldn’t disclose how many customers it has signed up since energy consultants started going door to door to pitch the company’s power-purchase agreements and started North Bay projects in January. Yet in the first two and a half months of this year, the company had 60 solar installation permits in progress or issued in Santa Rosa and unincorporated Sonoma County, according to public records.

    Vivint Solar installation in Sebastopol“In California, there a lot of informed people about the energy movement,” Mr. Deelstra said. “People have done research and have been interested in solar but have not been able to afford it.”

    The cost of a residential photovoltaic systems can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. The pioneering Sonoma County Energy Independence Program and other property-assessed clean energy financing programs have sprung up around the country to spread that cost over decades and potentially between successive homeowners.

    With solar and other methods for distributed energy generation, power-purchase agreements have scaled down these contracts for selling power from realm of large companies and utilities to the level of residential or commercial property owners and providers of the energy systems.

    These agreements can dovetail with SCEIP-like financing to give the property owner title to the system over time. Vivint Solar’s PPA structure covers the system, installation and maintenance cost then sells electricity to the homeowner at rates that average 20 percent to 30 percent below those of traditional utilities. Net metering determines whether the rooftop array produces as much, more or less for the grid than is used on the property, shifting to conventional utility billing for usage beyond array output.

    Started in mid-2011, Vivint Solar moved its headquarters to San Francisco a year later and said it would hire more than three dozen employees in the Bay Area by the end of this year. It currently has 14 Northern California electricians working from Santa Rosa, the East Bay and South Bay installation hubs.

    By owning the rooftop arrays, Vivint Solar applies for various utility and government incentives for solar- and clean-energy systems, but the company isn’t dependent on them because of the economies of scale, customer service policies and experience with local permitting honed by the company’s Utah-based affiliate Vivint Inc.’s businesses, according to spokeswoman Lisa Davis.

    A number of solar customers end up signing up for Vivint’s security, energy-management and automation services, which range in price from $50 to $69 a month, and a number of subscribers opt for solar arrays, she said. Vivint has nearly 700,000 users and is planning and offering options to integrate solar with the other services in the next couple of years.

    In its California rollout, Vivint Solar partnered with San Francisco-based Clean Power Finance. A year and a half ago, the latter developed a revenue-grade metering system that integrates with microinverters by Petaluma-based Enphase Energy, one of the fund-approved providers of meters with standard accuracy. Enphase’s microinverters attached to each solar panel maximize array efficiency and convert electricity for use on the grid.

    A fund managed by New York-based Blackstone Group acquired Vivint, Inc., and Vivint Solar, in November for more than $2 billion.

    In Vivint Solar’s Santa Rosa lease, Mike Flitner and Kevin Doran of Keegan & Coppin/ONCOR International represented property owner SBRI O’Hair II, LLC.

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