Armed with that debt backing, Citizenrē looks to install 15 megawatts in residentialsolarphotovoltaics systems over the next 18 months. Citizenrē claims to have provided PV systems to home owners at no out-of-pocket costs throughout California since late 2009 through a "forward rental agreement."
Citizenrē has spoken of this forward rental agreement since 2005, and in the words of the firms's CEO and founder, David Gregg, "The business model hasn't changed."
But much has occurred in Citizenrē's corporate arc since 2005.
The firm could be considered a pioneer in the residential solar lease concept. Stephen Lacey at Renewable Energy World wrote a somewhat scathing piece on the firm late last year, giving the firm some credit for trying to pioneer the residential solar lease. Several years earlier Jeff Wolfe of groSolar challenged most of Citizenrē's claims in the same publication, including their claim of getting $650 million in funding and building a 500-megawatt solar module factory. The company website still insists that they're building this 500-megawatt factory -- a ludicrous notion in an oversupplied market with plunging prices from a firm with little domain expertise.
The website also says, "Citizenrē is on its way to becoming a Top-5 global photovoltaic (“PV”) manufacturer, the largest global photovoltaic system installer, and the No.1 owner/operator of PV generating assets." All rather ridiculous claims that are fascinating by dint of their sheer disconnection from reality.
Citizenrē's business plan has elements of multi-level marketing -- "sales associates" spread the word, sign up customers and the company then contracts installers and suppliers to deploy solar equipment while financing the system in a rental agreement at a cost that is at or below the customer's electricity bill without any additional fees. The sales associates are called "ecopreneurs" and the compensation system still smacks of multi-level marketing in all its Amway glory.
If that sounds vaguely similar to the business plans of SolarCity, Sunrun, Sungevity or perhaps Brightgrid -- well, it is pretty similar. Except those growing companies seem to be executing on their solar leasing plan, don't use a multi-level marketing scheme for customer leads and acquisition and none of them involved Ed Begley, Jr. in the solar leasing process. (Begley was an early spokesperson for Citizenrē but departed when the firm's practices began to look less than credible.)
Citizenrē has three business units, all in need of rebranding and a spell checker -- Citizenrē Group, Citizenrē REnU, and Citizenrē Powur.
I spoke with Adam Boucher, the founder of Adam Capital. Adam Capital is a senior secured lender, the first in position in a lien upon the company. Boucher says his firm is "trying to fill a financing gap for the smaller developer, or in the renewable energy space. He added, "It's almost micro-financing with a home or small commercial installation. Very few banks have the expertise to do this. There are thousands of projects in this size range that are not getting done."
Adam Capital "really pioneered as the industry leader in installation financing," according to Boucher. Residential is a different animal than utility solar finance -- these are short-term loans in the six-month range. Boucher adds, "We like the short-term nature and predictability -- we can control the project and come in as the sole lender." He said, "In a slow week, we see $30 million in loan requests -- an enormous amount of deal flow."
Regarding Citizenrē, he says: "Where some people see baggage, we see a company that had a vision but didn't have a path. Five years later the company is fulfilling its promises." Boucher said that his firm has "completed 150 projects with Citizenrē."
Adam Capital is not a consumer lender -- these are commercial loans made in an amount that equals "no more than 67 percent of the total available rebates," and the lender is listed on the ITC grant. The assets are the utility rebate, a lien on the equipment, the lease itself and the UCC-1 with the company.
"They are back -- and back in a big way," according to the lender.
Over the last years, the firm has signed up customers, and according to the CEO of Citizenrē, "We are delivering to those customers; we are installing PV on rooftops."
The CEO explained that they are "not like SolarCity. We don't use a tax equity partner. We are not going after tax equity immediately. We select markets where utility incentives and cash grants give us the ability to find a development partner like Adam Capital."
The CEO emphasized that there is "no initial cost to the customer -- they don't receive their first bill until the system is interconnected and producing power." David Gregg also adds that "Sales Associates are paid on commission once the system is installed and are paid an ongoing commission as long as that customer is paying rent." The company claims to be "installing Suntech [panels] and SMA [inverters]." They installed 780 kilowatts in 2010 and look to install 15 megawatts in the next 12 to 18 months. Average installation size has been 4.2 kilowatts, according to the CEO.
Lyndon Rive, the CEO of SolarCity, the leading solar installation firm with 1,000 employees and thousands of installations, said, "If they can deliver, then more power to them, but if they can't deliver -- that hurts the industry."
A brilliant colleague and solar veteran had this to say: "Who would have anything to do with a name this tainted? I can't discount the fact that they've potentially churned all leadership and all of the dishonest aspects of their business model, but who the hell does due diligence on Citizenrē (presumably up to and including typing their name into Google) and thinks, 'Yep. This is where to put 20 million actual American dollars.'"
We'll see if the firm can install the proposed 15 megawatts in the next 12 to 18 months.