Business

Publicly supported solar effort gets OK from state

After a five-month delay imposed by state regulators, Vashon Solar LLC is once again ready to seek investors for a publicly supported solar array it hopes to install at The Harbor School.

Gib Dammann, who helms the organization, had announced in March that he had enough investors lined up to install a 9 kilowatt solar array at the school, a milestone for the Island. But it turned out, he said, that he hadn’t garnered one last approval — a green light from the state Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) that allows him to issue a public offering for such investments.

“They slapped me. They corrected me,” Dammann said. “DFI in no uncertain terms determined that what we’re trying to do requires that we’re approved to sell securities.”

Because no money had yet traded hands, he was able to back up, fill out the appropriate paperwork and get registered with the state, he said.

The lengthy process, he said, was “both frustrating and beneficial.” The soft costs — all of his time and that of others, such as an accountant and lawyer — were daunting, making small, investor-supported solar projects such as his out of reach for some communities, he said.

But, he added, “I feel very confident that we now have a very tight company.”

During the five-month process with the state, Dammann couldn’t discuss the project with potential investors. Now, he said, “I can talk about it again. We’re proceeding to contact folks.”

Dammann is now trying to line up between $100,0000 and $330,000 to build a system that could produce between 9 and 36 kilowatts. It can have a maximum of 20 investors; each share in the company costs $5,000. Investors can purchase more than one share.

The project differs from Vashon Community Solar, which also recently cleared the DFI hurdle, receiving an exemption from the state’s securities regulations after months of financial and legal effort.

The community solar project is more ambitious: Backbone hopes to garner $540,000 and build a 65-kilowatt array. What’s more, its minimum level of investment is smaller: One share costs $1,000. Vashon Community Solar is the first one to work with King County, which is supporting the effort.

Both efforts lost one summer’s worth of power because of the DFI snags.

Dammann said he has to reach his minimum investment of $70,000 by Oct. 1 and finish the fundraising by Dec. 31. He hopes to have the first phase installed by mid-October and the second phase by Feb. 1.

Vashon Community Solar, meanwhile, is also fundraising for its effort, holding community meetings to discuss the project. It’s also still going through a political process: Because the project entails a lease with the county to build it on county land — the Vashon Transfer Station — it has to secure approval from the King County Council.

A committee hearing is scheduled for Sept. 18; it will likely be referred to the full council for a vote shortly after that.

Because the Backbone project is supported by County Executive Dow Constantine and others in his administration, Carol Eggen, an Islander who’s worked as a financial consultant for the Backbone project, is optimistic it’ll win county council approval. “Our fingers are crossed,” she said.

 

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