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Getting the green to go ‘green’ (Seacoast Online)

By Jim Cavan

business@seacoastonline.com
October 11, 2010 2:00 AM
From a distance, it must have been a sight to behold: two youngish, professional men, one clad in a black three-piece suit, heaving wood pallets and other refuse into a Dumpster outside a high school.

Strangely enough, it was probably the second time that day the two had sweated through their suits.

Earlier that day, Mike Behrmann and Clay Mitchell met with Gov. John Lynch at the University of New Hampshire during an event touting its Green Launching Pad, a grant program to help aid entrepreneurs in the green energy and products sector. Mitchell and Behrmann’s Revolution Energy was one of five startups in May to receive a GLP grant, designed to help each business take the “next step” forward in developing, producing, distributing or marketing their respective green products or services.

After meeting with the governor, Behrmann and Mitchell were off to meet fellow green entrepreneur Andrew Kellar, owner of Simply Green Biofuels. The three discussed their two companies’ partnership with Regeneration Park, a sort of green business incubator at a former car dealership on Route 1, which is slated to be up and running by year’s end. The building is set to include a solar array, which will be one of the largest in the state.

Not long after that meeting, the pair was off to Exeter High School, where the Revolution team put online a full solar energy system they’d helped construct last November. Tied for the second largest array in the state, and the largest for a school building, the system had been ready to launch for months, but needed a few last-minute approvals before the switch could be officially thrown.

A few minutes after the near 100-kilowatt array was turned on, Behrmann and Mitchell helped toss leftover waste and shipping materials into a Dumpster near the array. After helping Exeter High School launch One of the most common system expected to save the school district an estimated $20,000 a year, Behrmann and Mitchell were still willing to get their hands dirty.

“That’s pretty much a typical day,” Behrmann said. “And by that I mean there is no typical day for Revolution.”

Revolution was launched in 2008 as a spinoff from Mitchell and Behrmann’s sister company, Sustainable Development and Energy Systems Group. Founded a year earlier by Mitchell, Behrmann, Tobias Marquette and Chris Dundorf, SDES provides solutions for clients interested in saving energy, reducing energy costs and helping foster a greener environment. SDES assists with everything from conducting energy audits to energy planning, alternative energy system installation to general contracting and low energy residential design.

Revolution, meanwhile, deals with the hardware and machinery of the system itself. But Revolution neither manufactures nor installs the systems. Instead, because investing in alternative energy systems can be prohibitively expensive, Revolution secures actual financing, contracts the system’s construction and then charges the client the equivalent of a monthly electric bill to satisfy financing obligations.

The model, at least on its face, was as obvious as it was ingenious. In fact, Mitchell was shocked no one was really doing it around these parts. “It’s funny,” he said. “We get this question all the time when we talk to people about what we do. They say, ‘Why isn’t everyone doing this?’ And our only real answer is, ‘We don’t know!’ It’s truly baffling.”

Instead of being burdened with shelling out 100 percent of the cost of a solar array up front, businesses and other entities can achieve their dreams of going green and only have to worry about paying a monthly bill. The whole arrangement makes what was once a luxury for only the most fiscally unchained clients accessible to just about anyone.

But even coming up with Revolution’s unique financing model wasn’t so much planned as thrust upon them. Mitchell’s wife, Sarah Cook, has for years been a seventh-grade teacher in Exeter, and in that time had become friends with the school district’s Chief Financial Officer Nathan Lunney. Lunney had been interested in the prospects of incorporating clean energy into Exeter’s overall portfolio, and he became further intrigued when he discovered Revolution could potentially provide financial flexibility needed for the school district.

There was only one stipulation: Exeter didn’t want to pay for any of it up front.

“Needless to say, that was a challenge,” Behrmann said.

At this point, Revolution started exploring financing options. They called dozens of banks and spoke with countless financial gurus, seeking a partnership that would provide the necessary incentive for Exeter without driving Revolution itself into fiscal difficulty.

Eventually, Revolution landed The Provident Bank, which was enthusiastic about the model and what it could mean for local commerce. The terms were simple: Exeter schools would pay $150,000 a year to Revolution for the system, while Exeter would save roughly $170,000 a year compared to current energy cost, gaining $20,000 in savings.

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