Press "Enter" to skip to content

Charlottesville solar firm guiding Central Virginia farms, small businesses through grant process

Françoise Seillier-Moiseiwitsch’s resume is impressive. She holds a doctoral degree in statistics from University College London, was the director of biostatistics at Georgetown University Medical Center and is currently the founder and managing owner of Revalation Vineyards in Madison County.

But when it came to applying for a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to install solar panels on her winery’s new tasting room, she was lost.

The Belgian-born scientist-turned-vigneron contacted two solar companies last winter when she and her co-owner and husband decided to go solar. The couple were aware of resources available to them through a USDA reimbursement grant called the Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP, that would help fund the solar panels. But, they didn’t know how to access them.

However, one of the solar firms they reached out to did: Tiger Solar, a Charlottesville-based commercial and residential solar contractor.

“They seemed to be very approachable and welcomed any questions we had, so we decided to go with them,” Seillier-Moiseiwitsch told The Daily Progress. “They did all the paperwork. I’m good at grant writing, but this application required a lot of technical details that I could not deal with. They navigated me through the process and told me exactly what I needed to answer and sign.”

With Tiger Solar’s guidance, Revalation Vineyards applied for a REAP grant in March. The winery’s request received approval in August for about $20,000, which covered more than a third of the installation costs. By November, the tasting room’s 41 roof panels were up and running.

“I would not have been able to do it,” said Seillier-Moiseiwitsch. “I have a PhD, I’m a scientist, but I know nothing about electrical stuff. The application is short, but you have to know what information to put in. I just have no idea, and there was nobody else who could help me.”

While the REAP process may be foreign to small businesses and farms in Central Virginia, it’s familiar territory for Tiger Solar’s sales and marketing operations manager Ryann Coles.

Coles has been with the renewable energy branch of Tiger Fuel since its creation more than eight years ago. Tiger Fuel, a local fuel distributor, acquired the solar company Altenergy to form Tiger Solar in 2015. Ever since, Coles has been working with Tiger Solar clients through the REAP application step by step.

“When your average person looks at these forms, it’s pretty daunting,” Coles told The Daily Progress. “Knowing what information goes where, that comes with experience. I’ve been working closely with the USDA for years now, and I can make sure we have everything right.”

Coles guides small businesses through the three main rounds of REAP paperwork: the initial application, acceptance after being notified of grant approval and, most importantly, requesting reimbursement at the end of the project.

“It’s a bit overwhelming when you get 17 documents from the USDA,” said Seillier-Moiseiwitsch. “They were very helpful sifting through it all and only sending me what I needed to deal with.”

Up until last year, Tiger Solar was providing these services free of charge. But to cover its internal costs, the company started charging an application fee of $450, which is less than the industry standard that stands around 5% of the grant award, according to Coles.

“The ultimate benefit is helping the customer,” said Coles. “Applying for the grant makes the most financial sense.”

Van der Linde Recycling Center & Container Rentals had already applied for the REAP grant when they hired Tiger Solar in 2019 to install 720 panels to power its main facility in Troy. However, the USDA requires updates after the solar arrays are built, which meant more confusing paperwork that Tiger Solar took on for the center.

“A lot of it is technical stuff, and you’re focusing on your own business, so it was nice to have someone familiar who speaks that language to facilitate that for us,” CEO Andrea Johnson told The Daily Progress. “They’ve just been a fantastic company to work with.”

For the past eight years, Tiger Solar has assisted more than 40 clients secure more than $1.2 million in REAP grants. The company’s 100% success rate was a key reason why Tiger Solar obtained $204,000 from the USDA’s Technical Assistance Grant. This was the first year of TAG, which was offered to corporations such as Tiger Solar which provide assistance to the agricultural businesses and small enterprises that are seeking REAP funding.

“It’s a pretty onerous process for our customers to take on,” Tiger Solar President Russ Edwards told The Daily Progress. “We like to see small businesses reduce expenses and make long term investments.”

The TAG money is intended to cover some of the administrative costs that Tiger Solar accrues while guiding clients through the REAP application such as salaries, travel expenses and supplies. Edwards said Tiger Solar typically helps three to five clients apply for REAP funds each year, but the company hopes to double that number with the additional funding.

“The TAG money allows us to branch out of our normal territory,” said Coles. “We’ll be able to go further and develop more projects.”

Rural businesses and agricultural producers have the opportunity to apply for the REAP grant once every fiscal quarter. The money can be used to fund a range of renewable energy systems a company may be looking to implement. Applicants can request reimbursement for up to 50% of the project cost with a maximum set at one million dollars.

“I don’t know that enough small businesses know the availability of USDA funds and the simplicity of working with us,” said Edwards. “After the first five years of running a business, it’s a great phase to convert an expense into an investment.”


Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *