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  • Thomas Neyhart: Solar Power Can Reduce Louisiana’s Reliance on the Grid

    Published on April 1, 2022

    Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana in 2021, causing upwards of $75 billion in damages and approximately 115 deaths in the U.S. and Venezuela. The devastation and loss of life suffered across the state due to the hurricane was not only restricted to the duration of the storm. After the fact, many communities didn’t have power for weeks on end while Entergy — the primary electric power supply and distribution company in the area — worked to get people reconnected to the grid. This reliance on one source of power,  particularly grid energy, which can be expensive to use and even costlier to maintain,  is one reason Thomas Neyhart, CEO of solar energy and sustainable power solutions provider PosiGen, believes we need to quickly adapt and move to solar.

    Thomas Neyhart stated $280 million was spent on a gas-fired plant in New Orleans East that didn’t come online for days after the storm. “If we had spent one-quarter of that on micro-grids, on storage, and on renewables that are powered by the sun, you would’ve seen neighborhoods come back so much quicker,” he said.

    Many locals echoed these sentiments, saying that many people suffered needlessly due to a lack of power and the extensive delays in getting people reconnected. One Louisiana resident with a solar array on his roof reported that he hooked up a neighbor’s oxygen machine, another neighbor’s refrigerator, and a phone charging station outside his home for everyone to use — a huge relief for those in the area without power for days on end. This is reflective of Thomas Neyhart’s claims that solar power can be much more resilient — and companies such as PosiGen can be much more flexible — than large grid operators, and it makes a huge difference. “We can go in and hang a battery and connect it to a local resident’s solar system and users can quickly regain power access,” Neyhart said.

    PosiGen CEO Strives For Solar Power For All

    The post-Ida power struggles of Louisiana residents have been emblematic of a new world in which violent hurricanes, storms, and other natural calamities are increasingly common. From Hurricanes Katrina and Ida which struck Louisiana in 2005 and 2021, respectively, and Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma which all struck in the 2017 season, to the Texas snowstorms of 2021 and 2022, thousands of lives have been lost and billions of dollars in damages have been sustained due to a general lack of preparedness when it comes to severe weather.

    CEO Thomas Neyhart and solar power companies such as PosiGen believe the way forward is to make it easier for people to invest in and install solar solutions and for local, state, and federal governments to educate users and fund the switch from fossil fuel-powered energy to clean solar power and other sustainable alternatives.

    PosiGen and Thomas Neyhart have already taken something of a lead in this area by reimagining the solar installation approval process for new clients. Virtually all for-profit solar energy companies assess users based on their credit and FICO scores. If you don’t meet the company’s creditworthiness or income thresholds, you can’t use their services. PosiGen, on the other hand, has done away with credit and income checks and instead relies on a simple cost-savings formula when assessing a user’s home for a solar install: if the household can save money with solar, PosiGen will move ahead with an installation.

    “When you think about it, over 50% of the available roof space is in lower-to-middle income communities,” Thomas Neyhart said in a recent interview. “If they’re being left behind, then we cannot change the world if we are boxing out very large segments of it. If we really want to change things and really want to have that impact, everybody has to have access.”

    While waiving credit and income checks for new users was thought by many to be a dangerous proposition for any company, PosiGen has recorded substantial successes in onboarding new users and generating profits and savings for everyone. “In 2020, we saved our users over $17 million,” he said. “Every dollar saved in lower-income communities goes back to the community and is spent almost four times again.” According to Thomas Neyhart, this means PosiGen had a net economic impact of almost $70 million in the communities it operates in.

    Thomas Neyhart Offers Incentives and Savings

    According to Neyhart, part of the equation is having the right incentives in place. The cost savings generated by solar are typically enough to get the average user on board. However, there are many other factors that need to be considered, such as community buy-in for new projects, solar-friendly laws, and a general awareness of the benefits of solar.

    For example, citing state-specific differences between Louisiana and high-growth markets such as Mississippi, Connecticut, and New Jersey, Thomas Neyhart said: “There are no solar incentives in Louisiana, and [negative incentives] basically pushed Louisiana from 37th in the country in solar support to 51st. However, our growth is more progressive in other states such as Mississippi,  which is passing laws right now to encourage solar installations, and Connecticut, where we’ve been working with Connecticut Green Bank for some time now and now Connecticut is our largest market.”

    Overcoming pushback from local and/or state agencies is one challenge facing PosiGen and other solar energy operators, but there seems to be ample demand from users across the country for better, more cost-effective, more democratic, and more reliable energy solutions. If PosiGen can continue to commit to saving users money and investing in local communities — all while helping to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and grid energy — then we may fare better during and after the next climate catastrophe.

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