Launching Missouri’s Biggest Solar Project
On November 14, Gardner Capital will hold a dedication ceremony to celebrate the launch of its most ambitious solar project to date. Missouri’s largest solar project will bring affordable energy to 1,760 homes in Nixa. More than 33,000 photovoltaic panels have been installed, creating a 72-acre solar field west of town.
Mark Gardner founded Gardner Capital — a private equity firm focused on development, syndication, and investment — in Springfield in 1992. In its early years, Gardner Capital focused on funding and building affordable housing developments, and only entered the realm of solar development in 2014. “The impetus [to get into solar] was investment driven,” says Michael Gardner, President. “We had historic relationships; they wanted to invest in solar and the tax credit model fit what we were already doing. We just needed the right people.”
Since adding solar development to its repertoire, Gardner Capital has launched 17 projects nationwide, 10 of which are in Missouri. These “utility-scale” solar fields generate enough energy to power an impressive portion of the grids they feed, helping residents and businesses gain access to relatively inexpensive, clean energy. The scale of Gardner Capital’s development efforts in Missouri represent the company’s dedication to its home state.
Located just ten miles south of Springfield, the Nixa project is special for the family-run business. “It’s our closest project to our Springfield office. The company started in Springfield. It’s special to us that our biggest project is closest to home,” says Gardner. “We’re dedicated to reinvesting in Missouri itself. This is the biggest example of that on the solar side and represents our commitment to improving the lives of families in Missouri.”
Most of Gardner Capital’s solar projects are originated in-house or through our construction partner – MC Power of Lee’s Summit, MO. The company uses site “scouts” to look for suitable solar sites, connect with collaborators — financial partner, a utility company, and an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) firm — and coordinate permits and approvals.
Uncharacteristically, the Nixa project found them. In 2013, another solar developer, Solexus, conceived of the project, gathered the relevant stakeholders, and negotiated energy purchases with the city and utility company. When the project manager left before the concept came to fruition, the major players came looking for new partners to get the job done.
“The city, utility, and EPC groups were ready to tee up. They just needed investors with the right equity terms. Our specialty is relationships with local banks and investors, so the city approached us,” says Gardner. “We said, ‘It’s bigger than what we’ve done before, but because we have experience, we can give it a go.’” Gardner Capital took over the Nixa project in 2015, working closely with original collaborators Nixa Utilities, MC Power Companies, and the Missouri Public Utility Alliance.
When most people think about solar, they immediately imagine residential projects: single home retrofits or neighborhoods with photovoltaic panels perched on the rooftops. As a utility-scale developer, all of Gardner Capital’s enterprises exceed one megawatt. Most of the firm’s solar fields produce three times that, usually consisting of around 10,000 panels covering about 20 acres. Nixa far surpasses the firm’s more typical projects. Generating 11 megawatts of power, the field will produce an estimated nine percent of the city’s annual energy needs
The energy provided by the solar fields takes the place of energy typically provided by coal or natural gas, improving the community’s overall carbon footprint. But it also has more tangible, immediate benefits for the people who live and own businesses in the city. Despite common assumptions that solar and other renewable energy is pricey compared to the old standbys, the solar projects ultimately make power more affordable for the town’s residents.
“The thing that solar does is it takes away the uncertainty of natural gas, coal and oil prices. With solar, you always know the sun is going to be shining. So, the utility has an idea of how much it’s going to cost for this to generate electricity. That certainty allows them to have potentially lower energy prices, compared to needing to keep a cash reserve to handle fluctuations in gas and oil and coal prices,” says Gardner.
About Gardner Capital
Gardner Capital is a solar and housing development and investment company with primary regional offices in St. Louis, Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Springfield, Missouri. Gardner Capital has invested and syndicated more than $3 billion through various tax credit programs, including federal solar investment tax credits. Gardner Capital’s Solar Division was founded in 2014, leveraging over 20 years of experience and tax credit expertise to sponsor, finance and partner with third-party developers and investors throughout the United States. Our team brings execution certainty, thorough due diligence and professionalism to all of our solar development opportunities. Visit www.gardnercapital.com for more information.