How to Buy Solar on the Cheap

New Employee Benefit Program Includes Solar

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted November 3, 2014

solarneighSilicon Valley tech companies are famous for their gracious benefits packages with all sorts of crazy perks.

Google employees get free oil changes, Facebook has its own on-site “culinary team” to ply employees with free meals, Pinterest supplies its employees with literally whatever tech gear they want, as long as it can improve productivity.

At the Solar Power International Conference in Las Vegas, 3M (NYSE: MMM), Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO), and Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB) may have trumped Silicon Valley.

They're offering their employees cheap solar power as a benefit...no matter where they live.

These companies have entered into partnerships with private solar company Geostellar Inc. that let them sell solar energy 35% lower than the national average. Capitalizing on a bulk purchasing rate, these companies can sell energy at a cost that is approximately half of the national average. The companies are estimating that this will result in a 5 MW addition of new solar systems for Geostellar by 2016.

It must be said that this isn't the first employee solar discount program, but it's absolutely different from previous programs in its approach.

Companies like Cox Enterprises and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) offer employees discounts on SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY) contracts, for example, but these are just one-time incentives that count against the final cost of the installation.  Earlier this year, a handful of companies jumped on board with SolarCity incentives.

Other companies have solar benefit offerings limited by employee region. Aerojet, the aerospace engineering subsidiary of GenCorp (NYSE: GY) offered its 1,600 Sacramento-based employees a discount on solar installations that amounted to a 60% reduction in system cost.

Employees in other branches of the company did not have access to these type of savings.

This GeoStellar program, called the “Solar Community Initiative” is actually a bulk power purchasing arrangement. It brings organizations, groups, and companies together to use their combined scale to drive down the cost of solar adoption at the national level, and offer that benefit to employees.

For example, the average cost of energy across the U.S. is 12.5 cents per kilowatt hour. The average cost of solar energy is just 9 cents per kilowatt hour. Employees of these companies get their solar energy at 8 cents per kilowatt hour because of the bulk rate.

Municipalities, schools, nonprofits, and even neighborhoods can participate in the initiative, too. The city of Cleveland, Ohio recently launched its “Solarize Cleveland” campaign based on the GeoStellar community platform. The company says individual homeowners can take advantage of the group purchasing rate until the end of 2014.

“We’re thrilled to provide our first-of-its kind marketplace that makes the solar experience simple and convenient for the employees and communities of these pioneering companies,” said David Levine, CEO of Geostellar in a prepared statement. “Homeowners everywhere can simply type in their address and see instantly how much solar can save them on their electric bills and increase the value of their homes with no upfront costs or out-of-pocket payments.”