The first meeting took place on November 9, the morning after the election. People were tired and in a state of shock, but also committed to furthering renewables in our country, no matter who is President. In the evening of November 17 we held the second meeting. Both events generated a vibrant discussion about our plans.
We started out by reporting back on what we have been doing over the past 11 months. During this time we had the pleasure to travel around Maryland spreading the word about community solar (see some of the past events here). Many potential sites have also been assessed for their feasibility to host a solar project. Furthermore, we have developed business relationships with several solar installers and developers in the area.
The community solar program has been delayed a couple of times (from August to the end of November). Consequently, at the present moment we believe that in a month or two we will announce our first project. It will be vital for us as a company and for the solar field in Maryland to show a strong demand from the very beginning. This is a pilot project and it needs to prove itself viable and commercially attractive.
A large part of the meetings was allocated to present our current ideas about the subscription options that we want to offer. Basically, we think in a tri-dimensional way:
- Duration: long term as well as short term options.
- Relationship with the customer: option (1) “membership”, which includes economic benefits and the opportunity to contribute to “community-building”, and option (2) a more simple and direct “subscription”.
- Income status: we’re committed to trying to find options for all Low-to-Moderate Income households, encouraging their participation.
The stakeholders applauded our push to build a sense of community with solar, and establish a “Members’ Fund” from a portion of the membership fees. The use of the Fund will be voted on by the members. For instance, it could involve donations to a non-profit, help LMI households get solar, or fund an environmental project in a local school. Stay tuned for more info!
Overall, attendees stressed the need to provide easy to understand subscription options, especially because the economics of community solar are not known to the majority of people.
Finally, Neighborhood Sun wants to be a truly responsible business. For this reason, we plan to submit an application to finalize our status as a B-Corp. This is a voluntary certification that exceeds social and environmental standards, and looks at a company in a multi-dimensional way. We are looking to include a publicly-available mechanism that would empower customers (Members and Non-Members) to voice their opinions and give us feedback. In general, the certification will challenge us to think about what we do in a very comprehensive way, from the impacts on society and the environment to labor rights and the surrounding community.
Thanks to all the wonderful people that came to these meetings, your input was very welcome and will impact our future initiatives and propositions.