Community Energy Inc., the Radnor renewable energy pioneer, is selling its solar energy development business to AES Corp., an international energy company that is rapidly expanding its clean-energy in response to the climate crisis.
AES, which is based in Arlington, Va., is acquiring Community Energy Solar LLC, which has developed about 3 gigawatts of large-scale solar projects across the country, or about 5% of the nation’s utility-scale solar capacity. Community Energy has about 10 GW of solar projects under development.
AES’s clean-energy unit builds and operates solar, wind and battery storage systems. With the acquisition, it will increase the number of renewable projects in the pipeline by about a third, to 40 GW. Financial terms of the agreement, which goes into effect immediately, were not disclosed.
The buyer plans to incorporate Community Energy Solar and its 60 employees under the AES Clean Energy flag, but will maintain the office in Radnor, said Woody Rubin, the chief development officer of AES Clean Energy. “The combining of Community Energy into our team certainly adds scale and talent,” he said.
The consolidation was inspired by a desire to meet an expected tenfold increase in demand for solar energy from public officials who have set ambitious zero-carbon emission targets and from large customers that have made clean energy commitments, said Brent Beerley, chief executive of Community Energy.
“If you look at what the Biden administration is calling for, in terms of decarbonization of the U.S. electric grid, it’s effectively 10 times of solar over the next decade,” said Beerley. Community Energy needs the deeper pockets and market access of AES to accelerate growth, he said.
AES, which has operations in 13 countries and $9.6 billion in revenue in 2020, has bought several solar projects developed by Community Energy in recent years, so there was an established relationship between the two companies.
Community Energy was founded in 1999 by Brent Alderfer and Eric Blank. Initially it was a reseller of wind energy through programs such as Peco Wind, which Philadelphia utility Peco Energy offered to customers who agreed to pay extra every month to buy a portion of their electricity from wind generators. The programs demonstrated that there was public demand for renewable energy, even at a higher price.
“Voluntary wind programs were really instrumental in opening up the market for wind here in the Mid-Atlantic,” said Beerley, who has worked at the company for 20 years and became CEO in January.
In its early years, Community Energy expanded to serve 75,000 retail customers through 18 different utilities. Then it began to transform into a developer of renewable projects, primarily wind farms.
The Spanish energy giant Iberdrola acquired Community Energy in 2006, attracted by its wind assets. Community Energy’s founders, joined by Beerley, then spun off the Community Energy name in 2009 and restarted the business as a solar developer.
Community Energy now is primarily a developer of large solar projects for which it finds long-term buyers of the electricity, and sells the projects to operators such as AES. It has built several large solar farms in Virginia for Amazon, which has ambitious clean-energy commitments. Community Energy has also retained a small number of solar facilities that it operates, including a 2 MW solar array at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, which opened in 2016.
AES, which was founded in 1981, operates across a spectrum of electric generation and distribution businesses. It owns traditional electric utilities in Indiana, Ohio and in El Salvador.
The largest part of its portfolio is its power generation businesses, including traditional fossil fuel plants that burn coal or natural gas to produce electricity. It is developing liquefied natural gas import facilities in several Caribbean countries to provide fuel to its gas-burning power plants.
But most of the company’s growth is in renewable energy, which accounted for most of the 4 GW of new generation in the last year, said Rubin. AES Clean Energy accounts for about 700 of the parent company’s 8,000 employees.
“The company is in the process of longer-term transformation,” said Rubin. “It still has fossil plants, and it’s serving the grid from traditional technologies. But in terms of the growth, over the last decade it really has been a vast majority renewables.”
AES is considered a pioneer in large-scale battery energy storage systems. In October, AES and energy giant Siemens launched a stock offering for Fluence Energy, Inc. to manufacture and market utility-scale storage project. The offering initially valued Fluence at $4.7 billion.
AES also packages its energy storage projects with solar and wind projects to provide customers with guaranteed power supply at all hours. One of its biggest customers is Google.
AES is buying the bulk of Community Energy Inc.’s business. Beerley will serve AES as consultant during the transition. But he said he will remain with Community Energy Inc. to tend to some legacy businesses unrelated to solar development, and to explore “next generation climate tech ventures,” including nascent technology to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and sequester it underground.
“It’s really early stage, but I’ll spend some time exploring those types of ventures,” he said.