By Michelle Monroe
ALBURGH – The future of one of Alburgh’s earliest solar projects is in doubt, with the company that built it having filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Clean Energy Collective (CEC), a Colorado firm which built the array, filed for bankruptcy in November following a bankruptcy filing by four of its subsidiaries in July.
The array, located at 348 U.S. 2, was built in 2015 on land leased from Carol Pellerin. Pellerin told The Islander she received her lease payment for 2020, although it arrived a little late. Aside from the payment, she has not heard from the company directly.
When CEC built the array, the company sold panels to local residents who would then receive credit on their electric bills for the energy generated. That is still happening, according to Peter Cherouny, an Islands resident who said he bought several panels.
CEC owned the equipment on which the panels rested and was to maintain the system. An escrow account was set up for that maintenance.
What would happen should CEC fail was something Cherouny said he specifically asked about before buying into the project. He said he was told the escrow account would continue to provide for the maintenance and eventual decommissioning of the array.
Yet the company’s current CEO and CFO, Thomas Jannsen, told Cherouny something quite different in an email exchange Cherouny provided to the Islander.
CEC was to earn its income from tax credits, which are usually available once, at the time of construction, and renewable energy credits which are generated every time a Megawatt hour of renewable energy is produced and supplied to the electric grid according to the email.
That market, however, has been more volatile than CEC may have anticipated.
In his email to Cherouny, Jannsen wrote: “Right now the entity receives about $9K annually for renewable energy credits. The last 3 years of cash costs averaged $14.5K per year.”
The array is not owned directly by CEC, but by a company named CEC Solar #1027, LLC. That company is, in turn, owned by another company which is owned wholly by CEC. Jannsen did not provide the name of the intermediary company.
CEC Solar #1027 has, Jannsen said, no outstanding bank loans, but does owe CEC roughly $77,000 “for various costs including reimbursement for required insurance.”
CEC Solar #1027 is no longer a registered company in Vermont, nor is CEC Solar #1044, a CEC subsidiary created for a project in West Haven.
“Finally, so far CEC has been reimbursed but the funds available will not last the lifetime of the array and would then cause someone to pay for those costs in order to continue the operation. In addition the entity will be required to pay costs to restore the land back to its original state,” Jannsen wrote. “In summary, without getting the panel owners to collectively pool funds for reserves there just is not enough cash flow to support the array long term.”
Jannsen also told Chourney that CEC is actively seeking a purchaser for the array.
According to multiple press reports, as part of the July bankruptcy of its four subsidiaries, CEC sold the assets of those subsidiaries to Conedison Clean Energy. Among the listed assets was Alburgh Solar 1. It is not clear what, if anything, Alburgh Solar 1 owned or if it was included in the sale to Conedison. Alburgh Solar 1 was the name CEC used when obtaining a certificate of public good for the Alburgh array in 2013. That certificate expired before the project could be built and CEC went back to the Public Service Board for a new certificate in 2015 under the name CEC Solar #1027.
The Islander contacted Jannsen for an update on the current status of the Alburgh array, but as of press time had not received a reply.
In its bankruptcy filing, CEC listed assets totaling $1.87 million and $40 million in debts, including $7,950 owed to the Vermont Dept. of Taxes.