Interviews with the Energy Community – Cypress Creek Renewable’s Ben Van de Bunt

In 2012, the American Energy Society connected with a Member who had recently joined – Ben Van de Bunt. At the time, as CEO of the direct-response marketing company Guthy-Renker, Ben was exploring the burgeoning renewable energy industry and considering various entry options. In a casual conversation, he suggested that the American Energy Society rely on a data-driven strategy to identify important news and trends across energy sectors.

(The American Energy Society) – In early 2014, Ben became Board Chair of Cypress Creek Renewables, and led a new data-driven strategy to identify and acquire underutilized land on which to build utility-scale solar arrays. The approach showed dividends immediately, as projects in 15 states quickly underwent development.

As 2016 approached conclusion, Cypress Creek issued several announcements that cemented their standing as the nation’s fastest growing solar farm developer. In October, they signed an agreement to acquire Asheville, North Carolina-based solar developer FLS Energy. FLS has an operating portfolio of 350 megawatts and a near-term pipeline of over 600 megawatts of solar projects. In November, they partnered with TriEagle Energy and parent company Crius Energy, to offer affordable solar energy to Texas residents – a state with the largest capacity for solar potential.

To end the year, Cypress Creek announced the completion of its largest utility-scale solar energy facility to date. The project, Innovative Solar 46, the Hope Mills, North Carolina is considered one of the largest solar farms ever built east of the Mississippi river, providing an estimated 78.5 megawatts of clean energy to homes and businesses within the region.

In less than three years, the company has grown from a small, regional operation to becoming a national company with offices across the nation. Cypress Creek now has more than four GW of developed solar, almost $2 billion in CCR committed capital, and participation in more than 200 solar energy generation assets (over $5B). In 2017, the company has set a “build goal” of more than 1 GW of renewable energy capacity.

It turns out, Ben’s early recommendation to rely on a data-driven strategy immensely helped the American Energy Society, as we have grown from 9,000 energy professionals to more than 175,000 engaged Members. Since then, we have added new publications and events, and set an ambitious “build goal” of surpassing 200,000 members in 2017.

Logan Jenkins, a Community Manager for the American Energy Society, recently spoke with Mr. Van de Bunt in regards to the future of Cypress Creek Renewables and their role in renewable energy industry. The following is a truncated version of their conversation.

American Energy Society: Where do you and your team at Cypress Creek see clean energy in America’s energy future?

Ben Van de Bunt: From the 1,000 foot level, to put it simply – don’t dig and don’t burn. At Cypress Creek, we use the power of the sun. Other renewable power sources are more abundant and more prevalent than traditional sources in the fossil fuel industry. The multitude of clean energy solutions here in the U.S. are proving to be more cost-effective, have substantially less impact to the environment, and are creating jobs for people across the nation.

CCR is now one of the largest solar developers in the country. Can you explain from a value standpoint what that means?

On a larger scale, we are helping boost the clean energy industry as a whole. The more solar we can put in the ground, the less reliant we become on fossil fuels and the more job opportunities that are created. This is our “big why?” – our purpose as a company. Our locally-based development strategy allows us to deploy solar where the power is needed most. The more projects we deploy, the better relationship we have with the many teams we work with, as well as the local communities. Our leadership team feels that if carry out our vision, the economics will follow.

How does your recent acquisition of FLS Energy play into this plan?

This acquisition allows Cypress Creek to internally operate throughout the solar energy development process. We can now fully take a project from conception to commissioning with in-house system design, engineering, construction, financing and turnkey project development capabilities. FLS Energy had a substantial portfolio of solar energy assets throughout the U.S. deployed and in development and our collective missions aligned very well.

Is Cypress Creek taking an approach towards energy storage?

We feel energy storage will be a key component of the clean energy industry. Ultimately, we see energy storage as inevitable in the provision of services to grids and certainly adds to our value proposition. Of course, solar energy is a daytime energy – the addition of storage allows for 24/7 use. We have hired a Director of Energy Storage, Brian Knowles, and he works closely with our Finance team in our San Francisco office. Utility-scale solar plus energy storage and finance are very closely aligned.

In what other areas is Cypress offering alternative ways to deliver clean energy?

Put simply, on average, a 1,500 square foot home using coal-generated electricity is responsible for the burning of nearly six tons of coal per year. Most Americans would prefer not to do that. In deregulated states, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of unutilized or underutilized land. If these vast areas can be utilized by solar development, assuming they are within reasonable proximity to the grid, it’s a huge win for the clean energy industry, the economy, and the communities nearby.

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The American Energy Society would like to recognize the efforts of Ben for his leadership at Cypress Creek and thank him for his valuable and early advice to the society.

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