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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Guest Post: Behind the Scenes at BT “Goes Solar”

Jon Reiter is Senior Director for Major Transactions. He came up with the idea for the solar installation, constructed the conceptual business case and drove the process both internally and externally. He comments here on some of the lessons learned through the process.

When I initially proposed pursuing what became BT's 500-kW El Segundo solar project, I knew we would have some fundamental challenges to address, such as:

  • the site is owned by a third party real estate investor and therefore we required formal consent;
  • our carport tracker design was uniquely engineered for our site and therefore it would be a complex plan submission to the local planning department; and
  • we elected not to allocate capital resources to the project and therefore needed to engage with an additional third party (a PPA Provider).

In order to achieve cooperation from all stakeholders, our project team adhered to two key principles.

Engage Early and Often. After conducting an initial feasibility assessment, my very first call was to our site owner (Broadreach Capital Partners) to gauge interest. Admittedly, there was some reluctance at first. However, with early education about the benefits of solar to Broadreach as the property owner and by working with the company in assessing the system's design aesthetics as well as the soundness of its engineering plans, we were able to earn their trust and support. Likewise, as soon as the preliminary design of the system was complete, I scheduled a meeting with the Mayor of El Segundo and his team well in advance of our plan submissions. This early notice and subsequent regular engagement enabled the planning process to progress very smoothly.

Open Communication. As the ultimate driver of the project (and of course consumer of the solar energy produced by the system), we encouraged open communication among all parties involved. This emerged in several contexts -- design finalization, contract negotiations, construction and project management, marketing and public relations, etc. The result was that we created the right environment for all stakeholders to 'row the boat' in the same direction. This degree of transparency was especially critical in managing our PPA provider (Solar Power Partners) and solar integrator (Suntech Energy Solutions), both of which maintained excellent lines of communication throughout the process.

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