Purpose-Driven Solar: How Pivot Delivers Impactful Projects for Local Communities

By: Annie Lappé

September 12 2023

At Pivot Energy, we don’t just produce megawatt-hours of clean energy; we work diligently to develop community-centered projects that deliver meaningful social and environmental benefits. As a Certified B Corporation, we develop environmentally responsible solar projects that align with our mission to create a more sustainable and equitable future. With all of our projects, we drive positive impact through three pillars: conservation, climate, and community. Our “purpose-driven” approach to development is unique and evolving, and we’re excited to share some new updates on our commitments below. 

Land Stewardship 

The vast majority of commercial-scale renewable projects will be built in rural America. To meet our nation’s climate goals and stave off the most devastating impacts of the climate crisis, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates about 10 million acres, or 0.4% of all US land, will be needed for renewable energy production. At Pivot, we believe that as rural communities diversify from growing food, or crops like corn used for ethanol production, to growing energy for the electricity grid, solar can be part of land restoration initiatives. Through committing to best practices in land stewardship, Pivot will be helping to restore soil quality, increase ecosystem functioning, and create pollinator habitats in rural communities across the U.S. We are partnering with the Colorado State University’s Soil Carbon Solution Center and their Plant and Ecosystem Ecology Lab to design research projects on our sites to measure the impact of these practices. 

At Pivot, over 95% of the ground-mounted solar sites we operate will include the following land stewardship practices: 

  • Plant “fuzz n’ buzz,” a seed mix of native grasses to support soil moisture and forage productivity, compatible with sheep grazing;
  • Use wildlife-friendly fencing that allows small animals to move through the site; 
  • Deploy sheep grazing that replaces mechanical mowing where possible;
  • Comply with all wildlife and wetland regulations in the area;.
  • Registering 100% of our sites on drift watch to make sure there is no pesticide drift or application on our sites.

Additionally, in 2023 and 2024, we are experimenting with additional “ecovoltaic” practices across select sites to learn more about the economic and ecosystem implications:

  • Add beekeeping and honey production at certain sites;
  • Crop production between rows, starting with alfalfa (hay) at certain sites;
  • Research projects to measure carbon sequestration benefits and soil health indicators of deploying grazing and other ecovoltaic practices.

When deciding what land to pursue for solar development, Pivot works closely with individual landowners and communities, considering many factors: location, proximity to power lines, and the traditional use of the land. We work to design projects that are seamlessly integrated with the environment while positively contributing to the communities that they serve.

As a company, we pride ourselves on our capacity to work with individual farmers and local communities to ensure that everyone realizes and experiences the true value that renewable energy offers. Many of the farmers we work with are turning to solar to generate revenue from unproductive land, providing them with a steady source of income, a more diversified portfolio, and time to allow the soil to rest and be restored.

It is also worth noting that community solar farms are excellent neighbors; they cause minimal disruptions and produce no emissions, light, or noise pollution!

During construction and at the end of a solar lease, we are also mindful of reducing waste. When we decommission our sites, we employ a “reuse, then recycle” approach, where we donate functional materials to NGOs, like Equitable Solar Solutions (ESS), which works with local nonprofits to install the gently used equipment on other sites, and then we recycle any broken panels that are beyond repair. We rely on SolarRecycle’s database of recyclers to pre-plan for shipping any damaged modules to the closest facility and preemptively include that cost in our financial modeling to ensure we're responsibly disposing of all waste during construction and decommissioning.

Energy Equity

In America today, roughly 25% of American households - over 30 million American households - experience high energy burden, meaning that they spend a disproportionate and unsustainable amount of their household income on energy expenditures. Low-income households have an energy burden that is nearly three times as high as their non-low-income neighbors - despite consuming less energy (8.3% vs. national ave. of 3%). Additionally, black households’ energy burden is 43% percent higher than white households, while Latino households’ energy burden is 20%  higher than white households (ACEEE, 2020).

At the same time, community solar, which is arguably the best product on the market to permanently reduce energy burden, is not reaching those households most in need of energy bill relief. While 3.2 GW of community solar capacity has been developed, only 65 MW (or 2%), is dedicated to reducing energy bills for low to moderate-income (LMI) community members. As a headcount, LMI customers only represent 12% of the total subscribers in today’s community solar market. This, however, does little to address the fact that LMI-eligible subscribers make up ~43% of US households.

Pivot is working to change that story. We are one of the leading low-income community solar providers with over 58 megawatts of community solar projects in development that will provide energy bill assistance to over 11,700 LMI households. For one Pivot subscriber in Colorado, subscribing to our garden means they can use their air conditioning this summer after being previously discouraged by the high rates. For another Pivot LMI subscriber, they feel comfortable checking their utility bill every month, knowing that they won’t be faced with difficult trade offs on which bill to pay because the costs are just too high. 

Also, we are about to see a significant positive shift towards a more equitable energy landscape. Thanks to policies like the Inflation Reduction Act, we expect to see a significant increase in equitable solar deployment across the country. Pivot plans to be one of the leading companies making this access happen. 

Community Investment & Community Engagement

Another commitment that sets Pivot apart is our Community Investment pledge. We donate funds to local community-based organizations with every project we build. We focus our investment on two social impact areas: 1) reducing energy burden for lower-income Americans and 2) creating workforce pathways into the solar industry for local residents in the communities we operate in. To date, we have pledged over $1.2M to community-based organizations and plan for that number to continue to grow. 

At Pivot, we take community engagement and input seriously and have a team dedicated to proactive community outreach. We host community input sessions, seek feedback on our local community investment plans, and work specifically with neighbors to address view shed concerns with tree and hedge screening and attractive fencing options. Through our community engagement work, we also seek to combat the growing and coordinated misinformation campaign about solar. We attend local board meetings in partnership with landowners to show the real benefits that “purpose-driven solar” can bring to communities and the land. 

What’s Next for Pivot 

The attributes of “purpose-driven solar” described above are just the start for Pivot. This year, we are mapping out a three year forward-looking impact roadmap, which will help us stay laser-focused on initiatives that will drive the most positive social and environmental impact. We also want to hear from you if you have ideas on how we can deliver more for the people and the land in the communities we operate in. Drop me a line at alappe@pivotenergy.net with any comments or suggestions.

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