Environmental Groups Reap as Solar Leasing Gains Houses

Non-profit groups including the Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society are raising funds by promoting rooftop solar panels installed by Sungevity Inc., a marketing model that may become more common as U.S. residential installations accelerate.

The closely held developer of rooftop solar systems has paid more than $1 million in referral bonuses to non-profits to date through its Sungevity.org program, according to a statement today.

The cost of referral fees and other incentives is offset by the chance to market solar systems to a receptive audience, said Danny Kennedy, president of the Oakland, California-based company.

“It’s low-hanging fruit with organizations that are similarly-minded,” he said in an interview.

The company has installed about 20 megawatts of systems since 2008. Sungevity typically provides solar panels at no upfront cost to homeowners, who make monthly payments for the power under long-term contracts.

U.S. residential-solar installations are expected to grow about 40 percent this year to 609 megawatts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Sungevity and other third-party solar financing companies will handle 75 percent of the systems, up from 60 percent last year.

“We always wanted to go with solar energy but didn’t want to spend $50,000 to purchase a system,” said Bruce Clark, a Long Valley, New Jersey, homeowner and Wilderness Society member who has panels on his roof from Sungevity.

The solar company “sweetened the deal” by donating $1,000 to the charity and giving Clark a $1,000 gift card and an Apple Inc. iPad.

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