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A Colorado company is raising the bar in the solar industry

Pivot Energy was founded in 2009 to fight against the existential threat of global warming by expanding access to clean, solar energy. Based in Denver, their team is helping the country transition to a more sustainable, decentralized electric grid by working on hundreds of projects across the country.

They were awarded a Best for Colorado Commit to Action Award for their commitment to provide solar opportunities to low to moderate income (LMI) communities across Colorado. They are in the process of developing six megawatts of solar for Xcel Energy that will be subscribed by 100 percent LMI families.This annual award honors inspirational Best for Colorado companies that are driving transformational change in regards to the wellbeing and resilience of our communities, environment and society.

We spoke with Hannah Erwin, Internal Operations Associate, to learn more about Pivot Energy’s efforts to raise the bar in the solar industry. 

Best for Colorado: Can you tell us about your community solar initiative?

Pivot Energy: Compared to residential and onsite commercial solar, community solar is a large-scale renewable energy solution built offsite, connected to the utility’s electrical grid and virtually sectioned off for utility customers, including businesses, nonprofit entities and/or residential users. In 2012, the Colorado state legislature mandated that 5 percent of community solar garden capacity be reserved for low to moderate income (LMI) subscribers to promote the expansion of solar in Colorado. 

In 2018, the EPA published a report stating that those living below the poverty line have a 35 percent higher burden from particulate matter emissions than the overall population. In this context, the 5 percent community solar LMI carveout seemed inadequate in addressing inequity. Pivot Energy believes in expanding solar access for all, which is why we’ve assumed responsibility for exceeding government mandates. Currently, Pivot’s solar gardens are made up of roughly 25 percent LMI subscribers. In addition, we’re developing 6 MW of solar for Xcel Energy that will be subscribed by 100 percent LMI families. 

BFCO: What challenges have you faced in expanding solar access for LMI communities? 

PE: We’ve learned a lot about the challenges that LMI families and individuals face through our work. LMI subscribers, which are disproportionately renters rather than homeowners, are deemed ineligible for many community solar subscriptions that require long subscription term lengths. Pivot Energy has worked with financiers to make LMI subscribers a more significant proportion of subscriptions than the law set out to achieve. The 6 MW project with Xcel Energy we’re developing is a great example of a successful developer and utility partnership. Language barriers have also been a roadblock to success between potential customers and our services. This is one of the reasons why Pivot sought out a partnership with Energy Outreach Colorado who can help us integrate our community solar product within the communities they serve. 

While Pivot and others have been pushing the industry on LMI access to community solar, the market is now moving more and more towards a full industry response and more innovative solutions. Using Pivot projects and others as a baseline, entities like the City of Denver are now soliciting Request for Proposals with stipulations for high LMI engagement and subscription, using some of their purchasing power to make access more available.

BFCO: What are your hopes for the future and your sustainability goals? 

PE: To build a more democratic pursuit of triple bottom line and corporate social responsibility across the company. Embedding B Corp best-practices into the everyday priorities of every employee is also a huge goal of ours.

BFCO: What lessons have you learned from 2020 so far?

PE: In 2020, Pivot has been reminded about the urgency to grow as a business for social good. Unfortunately, resources like traditional rooftop solar energy that are actively mitigating the effects of the climate crisis are reserved for those with access to capital—resulting in a systemic favoring of white, affluent individuals and businesses. COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have increased the expectations of companies leading the way; it’s not enough to build our company’s profit in a way that perpetuates systemic racism and economic inequity. We should never be comfortable with what we’ve accomplished so far, because companies are looking at us as an example, and there’s so much more work to be done. 

Best for Colorado is a program of The Alliance Center. This program allows Colorado companies to measure and improve their social and environmental impact, regardless of where they are on their corporate social responsibility journey. Best for Colorado offers programming and tools for all Colorado companies, including B Corps, to improve their practices and connect participating companies with local resources, education and support.