RFP – Solarize Asheville-Buncombe


Request for Proposal: Residential and/or Commercial Installer(s) 

Published: February 1, 2021 (see RFP documents below)

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe invites proposals from contractors specializing in the design and installation of solar photovoltaic and battery storage systems (“Contractor”) to participate in a Solarize campaign for the city of Asheville and Buncombe County, NC (“Project Area”). 


Bid Meeting: a virtual bid meeting was held on February 8, 2021. See below for meeting information:

Recording of Bid Meeting

Bid Meeting Presentation



Solarize Asheville-Buncombe is a public-private coalition consisting of the Blue Horizons Project, City of Asheville, Buncombe County, Green Built Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club/WENOCA, Hood Huggers International, MountainTrue, Solar Crowdsource, and community leadership.

The Blue Horizons Project is the community partner on this campaign, and its work is rooted in energy efficiency as the foundation of clean energy. Buncombe County and the City of Asheville have adopted 100% renewable energy goals for the community by 2042, and the Blue Horizons Project is helping to reach that goal.

The objectives of the Solarize Asheville-Buncombe program are to:

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe invites proposals from solar energy companies specializing in the design and installation of solar photovoltaic systems (“Contractor”) to participate in a Solarize campaign for Asheville and Buncombe County, NC (“Project Area”).

Solarize Asheville-Buncombe wants to ensure that residential and commercial participants/customers get the best quality materials and service for the best possible price and recognizes that Contractors may specialize in one market segment or the other. Therefore, respondents to this RFP may bid for:

Note regarding COVID-19: Bidding Contractors are encouraged to empahsize the services they can offer to promote safe social distancing practices in the sales and installation process including but not limited to proposals, site visits, contract signing, and policies in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Bids Due: by 5:00PM, March 2, 2021

RFP Questions & Answers

Questions from prospective bidders will be posted here with our response to ensure all bidders have the most update information possible.

Updated 2/19/2021

Q: What are the benefits to residents, the contractor, and the community derived from a Solarize program?

A: Residents benefit because they get high quality systems and installations at lower prices with the support of the community. 

Contractors benefit through participation in intensive community education and outreach for a limited time. Solarize programs have been proven to expand the local market for solar and reach more customers than one solar contractor can accomplish alone and reduce contractor customer acquisition costs. The selected contractor(s) get exclusive access to this enlarged market, which increases sales volume and installations. Contractors also experience a lasting community relationship well beyond the timeframe of the campaign. 

The community benefits via new clean energy development, cleaner air, better health outcomes, and wide-spread savings on electricity bills, the savings of which can be reinvested in the community for decades to come. 

In addition, Solarize Asheville-Buncombe features important components to reach Low- and Moderate-Income (LMI) families and foster local workforce development.  These initiatives will help strengthen communities, increase resiliency, and expand the market further to a segment that is often left out of the new clean energy economy. This will lead to more projects for the selected contractor that would not otherwise exist without a Solarize campaign.

Q: Will this program generate enough aggregate capacity to achieve meaningful savings on the bulk purchase of materials?

A: Campaign organizers have set an aggregate capacity goal of 350kW to reach the lowest price tier (See Attachment B of RFP) and a “stretch” goal of 500kW+. This range of capacity (350-500kW) is around the average amount of capacity for the 300+ Solarize programs that have been conducted in the United States over the past 12 years since they began in 2009 and is also average for programs administered by Solar Crowdsource. In each of these campaigns, meaningful volume discounts through the bulk purchase of materials have achieved savings for participants. Bulk purchasing of materials together with other ways Solarize programs achieve lower costs for participants, such as reduction in contractor customer acquisition costs and by operating in a limited geographic area for a limited period of time. 

Q: Because this program covers all of Asheville and Buncombe County, will the installations be spread out too far and therefore not result in any quantifiable installation cost savings?

A: Solarize programs around the country have covered a larger geographic area than Buncombe County and still been able to achieve significant savings for participants. In addition, there are other ways Solarize programs can achieve meaningful savings such as reduction in customer acquisition costs and the bulk purchasing materials. The selected installer is free to charge an extra “distance/travel” fee for projects outside Buncombe County and the City of Asheville. 

Q: How can contractors bulk order materials without pre-selling all systems?

A: Suppliers, distributors, and manufacturers are very familiar with group purchasing programs nationally. If a contractor is unable or unwilling to bulk purchase materials in advance, these companies are known to work with contractors to acquire a volume of materials at volume discounts without purchasing in advance and warehousing the materials throughout the campaign. 

Q: Will campaign marketing costs and education and outreach events potentially consume the contractor’s resources and cost additional money?

A: No. There are no out-of-pocket marketing costs to the contractor beyond what they offer in their bid. Campaign organizers will hold at least two events per month with each event lasting no longer than 1.5 hours per event and will organize, promote, host and facilitate all of these events. The selected contractor(s) are expected to assign one or two representatives to attend these events, promote their organization, and participate in a Q&A session at the end of each program. This benefits both the campaign and the installer’s visibility in the community.

Q: With different types of installations, i.e., different inverters, batteries, on vs off-grid, roof vs ground, etc., how can contractors achieve volume discounts on such a wide variety of materials?

A: While no two installations are the same, most installations can be accomplished using generally the same materials, i.e., panels, inverters, and racking systems, and therefore can achieve volume discounts on these base materials. That said, the RFP includes Attachment D, which calls for the bidder to specify additional cost factors and price adders. By recognizing additional cost factors and price adders, contractors can provide both volume discounts on frequently used materials while providing the customer with custom solutions. 

Q: If a contractor already has an ongoing advertising campaign such as radio and/or television ads, how does this factor into campaign outreach efforts?

A: Existing advertising campaigns can be folded into the campaign outreach at the sole discretion of the contractor. If folded into the campaign, the contractor(s) can be reimbursed for said advertising expenses. Solar Crowdsource also budgets directly for paid advertising and other outreach activities at its own cost.

Q: It’s my understanding that Asheville and Buncombe cannot recommend a local trade company? But a competitor solar contractor can be both recommended and promoted by taxes?

A: The Solarize Asheville-Buncombe campaign is not conducted by or through the City of Asheville or Buncombe County and, therefore, this RFP is not subject to their procurement rules. Campaign organizers include Blue Horizons Project, Green Built Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club/WENOCA, Hood Huggers International, MountainTrue, and Umoja, among others. The City of Asheville and Buncombe County play a supporting role in this community effort because it serves to foster overall momentum toward local renewable energy goals and no government funds are paid to Solar Crowdsource.

Q: Who will be the administrator for the program? Is it a nonprofit or a for-profit organization?

A: Solarize Asheville-Buncombe is administered by Solar Crowdsource, a for-profit social enterprise firm that has administered more than a dozen solarize campaigns since 2015. There have been over 300 Solarize programs in the United States, the first one originating from a DOE grant to the city of Portland, Ore., in 2009. Most Solarize programs since then were funded in full or in part with grant funds coming from federal and/or state agencies or other sources. However, those funds are no longer or not always available. 

Solar Crowdsource does not require grant funds to operate as it is a social enterprise that utilizes a market-based solution toward group purchase programs. The Solar Crowdsource platform offers a vehicle for communities to offer Solarize programs to residents at no cost to the community. It also helps to transfer insights and experiences from other communities as well as tools not readily in place (or that would have to be developed) for mounting a campaign efficiently and effectively.

Solar Crowdsource shoulders the upfront costs of this organizing and administration as well as the risk of a program being successful. The success of this model depends on the success of the campaign; fees are paid only upon the signing of contracts. 

From a cost perspective, providing these turnkey services supplants the need for local nonprofits to utilize or expand their existing capacity or resources in order to execute a successful local campaign. Moreover, if a local nonprofit were to mount the program independently, these upfront costs would still have to be borne via a dedicated resource or from within a funded budget. 

Solarize Asheville Buncombe has been in the works since late 2019, when discussions first began among city, county, and nonprofit partners.

Q. What are the credentials of this platform administrator from out of the area?

A. More than a dozen other communities in the Southeast have already utilized this platform successfully, several of which have offered or are currently developing “2.0” versions due to the success of their initial local campaigns. In addition, one statewide environmental advocacy organization has repeatedly introduced the platform to other communities based on the track record of success of the platform and the value it brings to executing new campaigns rapidly and efficiently. References to participants in previous Solarize programs, including campaign organizers, contractors, and customers, are available upon request. 

While there is no equivalent or comparable platform to Solar Crowdsource based in Western North Carolina, one of its local associates is a Buncombe County resident who has worked on Solarize campaigns elsewhere and is involved in day-to-day administering  and communicating the campaign.

Q: Will Solar Crowdsource be authorized to do business in North Carolina?

A: Yes, after conclusion of the RFP process but before launching the campaign and any business is conducted, Solar Crowdsource will obtain a Certificate of Authority from the North Carolina Secretary of State.

Q: Do campaign organizers engage in sales?

A: No. Campaign organizers embark on a several months-long education and outreach effort to inform about the benefits of solar, the Solarize program, and encourage residents to sign up for a free evaluation. Participant signup information is immediately passed on to the selected contractor(s) sales team through an automated workflow process. The selected contractor(s) provides evaluations, proposals, site visits, and installation services.

Q: The RFP calls for including a 3-5% platform and administrative fee to be paid to Solar Crowdsource by the selected contractor(s) plus a percentage (1-2%) of campaign revenues to go toward a donation to a local nonprofit project. Won’t this therefore raise the cost of systems to Solarize participants?

A: No, based on previous community-based Solarize programs using Solar Crowdsource as a service provider, the cost of solar is reduced by an average of 20%. Solarize programs employ a number of ways to significantly reduce the cost of solar energy and battery storage technologies for all Solarize program participants while simultaneously incorporating all platform and administrative costs. 

Reduce Contractor Customer Acquisition Costs. Solarize campaigns feature wide-spread community-based education and outreach events to inform the public about the benefits of solar energy and battery storage technologies and encourage participants to sign up for a free evaluation. This pre-screening information needed for the selected contractor(s) to conduct a preliminary evaluation includes but is not limited to address and electricity bill information. As a result, Solarize programs have proven to significantly reduce customer acquisition costs for the selected contractor(s) while expanding the marketplace of solar installation prospects. 

Bulk Purchasing. By motivating and engaging as many new customers as possible in a limited time, volume discounts for materials and installations can be achieved through the power of bulk purchasing.

Limited Geographic Area. By focusing education and outreach efforts to residents in a defined geographic area, selected contractor(s) can bundle site visits and installations together. This allows contractors to gain efficiencies by doing more in a shorter period of time. Contractors have the option of adding an upcharge at their discretion to cover costs incurred when serving customers outside the defined area.

Based on these cost-reducing components plus reducing other soft costs, the Solarize model has proven successful in other communities to save customers ~20% off the typical market cost of installation, including any fees associated with mounting the campaign.

Q: Donations to the community project are expected but we don’t know what the project is at this time.

A: Timing and decision-making for this aspect of the campaign is typical of RFPs issued in Solarize communities.

Q: The RFP states that installed solar systems have a wind load rating up to 150 mph. Can that be changed to be in line with local requirement. 

A: Yes, reference to the 150 mph wind load rating is in error. Section V. Selection Criteria (page 9) has been corrected to read “… and be rated for wind loads up to 90 mph.”

Q: Is the tiered pricing based on DC capacity?

A: Yes.

Q: How are pricing tiers adjusted for residential vs larger commercial projects?

A: Contractors bidding for both residential and commercial applications may choose to make residential and commercial capacity interoperable meaning the aggregate capacity for commercial projects will count towards the residential capacity and therefore impact the residential tiered pricing, and vice versa. Doing so is not required.

Q: Will the website display a running total of contracted capacity?

A: Yes, the website includes a dashboard displaying the contracted capacity for residential solar, commercial solar, and battery storage.

Q: Approximately what % of projects is commercial or non-profit?

A: Based on previous Solarize programs, approximately 10% of the projects are commercial. Individual commercial projects are typically with small businesses between 25-150kW.

Q: Do you have a projected percentage for commercial applications in Solarize Asheville-Buncombe?

A: Not specifically, however, based on previous Solarize programs in communities of similar size, our goal is between 4-7 projects and 75-200kW.

Q: Will you be creating a different timeline for contract submissions deadlines for commercial projects? The Interconnection process tends to take much longer than residential and contractors have no control over that process. It could take up to 6 months or more to get approval depending on the project.

A: Yes, the commercial project deadline is 6 months after the enrollment deadline while the contract deadline for residential projects is 2-3 months after the enrollment deadline. In the sole discretion of the Contractor, the commercial contract deadline may be extended with a letter of intent signed by the commercial customer.

Q: Do installers who are local to the area get any preference to out-of-area installers?

A: As indicated in Section V. Selection Criteria of the RFP, campaign organizers have prioritized high quality components and competitive pricing as well as Contractor participation in the LMI and Workforce Development components of the program. These priorities are viewed to be in the best interest of the residents of Asheville and Buncombe County. That said, if a bid from a local contractor and a bid from an out-of area-contractor are a virtual “tie”, then preference will be given to the local contractor.

Q: Will the selected Contractor(s) enter into an agreement?

A: Yes, a Pro Forma Contractor Solarize Agreement is available for review.


Solarize Asheville-Buncombe Main RFP Document – Residential and/or Commercial Contractors


Attachment A – Contractor Profile


Attachment B – Pricing Proposal


Attachment C – Equipment Specifications

Download Now

Attachment D – Additional Cost Factors and Price Adders


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