One of the largest multifamily solar installations in U.S. history—and perhaps the largest, as the installer believes—is underway now by The Solar Company, a startup based in Dallas. The 15-megawatt, 40,000-panel system is going up at 16 apartment communities owned by Granite Redevelopment Properties across Dallas and Tarrant counties. The system will provide most of the electricity needed for 3,600 apartments throughout the project.
When it’s completed this summer, the system will offset “between 90% and 100%” of Granite Redevelopment’s electricity costs at the properties—with the installation expense repaid by energy savings “in 5 to 7 years,” Solar Company co-founder and CEO Travis Wildeman told Dallas Innovates.
Nine of the 16 communities lacked the roof space required to reach those lofty offsets. So Wildeman’s company built new solar carports (below), giving tenants around 2,000 covered parking spots while generating power and further decreasing Granite Redevelopment’s energy costs.
It’s more than just green—it’s the bottom line
Half of the project’s 16 Class B and C apartment communities already operated on an “all bills paid” model, and when the system is fully installed this summer, all 16 will adopt that model, Wildeman said.
“A lot of these apartment complexes pay for everything—water, cable, gas, everything is included,” he added. “So this is a way to get rid of one of their major expenses while still keeping that bottom line.”
Granite Redevelopment President Tim Gillean—whose company manages over 8,000 multifamily units in Texas and Arkansas—said the numbers sealed the deal.
“When we ran the numbers for overall project returns, we were sold and wanted to go all in,” Gillean said in a statement. “Not only is it a responsible decision from an environmental standpoint, it also makes tremendous financial sense and adds millions of dollars to the overall value of our portfolio.”
Granite Redevelopment will also be able to take advantage of federal tax credits and additional incentives available to them. Terms of their deal with The Solar Company weren’t disclosed.
Wildeman says when CRE companies do solar installations like this one, “you’re investing in a big system that fixes your energy costs for 20 to 30 years. Energy costs are obviously rising—they’ve gone up 15% since eight or nine months ago, and they’re going to keep going up. But as soon as you install the solar, if the rates go up, you’re fixed.”
Saving tenants from high electric bills
Before the installation, tenants at half of the Granite Redevelopment properties were paying their own electric bills—and Wildeman was shocked to learn how much they were paying.
“Whereas you and I might pay 10, 12, maybe as high as 15 cents a kilowatt, some of these tenants were paying an exorbitant amount, sometimes double,” Wildeman said. “Granite came in and basically said that’s not fair, and we’re going to help these people out by way of using solar and going all-bills-paid.”
For the tenants, once their community’s system is installed, electricity will work like it always has, with seamless power operation whether solar is used or the energy is being pulled from the grid. “There is absolutely zero hiccup whatsoever” in the power flow, Wildeman says.
But since battery storage systems haven’t been installed at the properties, one benefit of solar won’t be available to tenants yet—during a power blackout, the properties will be blacked out too.
“You can’t get the batteries right now,” Wildeman told us. “Everyone’s in severe backorder. But as soon as they are available, companies like Granite Redevelopment may be exploring their use.”
Exploring project for Class A apartments too
The Solar Company is currently in talks with a group out of the Northeast with “a very, very large portfolio” of 90 Class A apartment communities. Tenants at these communities pay their own energy bills, but the complexes themselves have their own high electricity costs.
“There’s an exorbitant amount of electric to keep the common area lights on, to run the pools, parking garage lights. There’s a lot of electric bills on the properties, and we can 100% offset those,” Wildeman said. “Also, the biggest advantage is the tax credits and other federal government incentives that are involved. That’s a big sell in this whole thing.”
CEO worked in CRE for 20 years before going solar
It’s not a big surprise that only one year after co-founding the company, Wildeman has landed this massive multifamily project. He spent the last two decades working in commercial real estate for companies like Dallas-based CBRE and Falcon Realty Advisors, and says he approaches his business from the CRE owner’s perspective.
In 2020, he was looking for something he could put more of his passion into, he told us. “But it had to be worthwhile, and I wanted it to be somewhat innovative, and construction-related,” he said.
Then he got a call from an attorney friend who works with insurance companies on roofing claims. He advised Wildeman to look into solar energy.
“I told him, ‘If it works, it would have already been in Texas.’ So I set out for a full year to prove it wrong. I traveled around. I found out everything I could about the business.”
His CRE friend’s energy bills opened up opportunities
Wildeman reached out to friends who were commercial real estate owners, and examined lots of their energy bills—for apartment complexes, industrial, a car dealership, an office building, a retail building, a storage facility, a hotel.
“When I drilled down into these numbers to see if solar would work—not only from a design aspect, but also from just just doing cost analysis—it worked for the majority of the buildings. We also discovered a few ways to add additional streams of income to the properties, which improves them overall.”
“Obviously the light bulb went on,” Wildeman recalls.
The 2020 election only reinforced his move into solar: “One side in particular was extremely heavy on the green initiative. They’re currently in the White House, so all the stars aligned.”
25 employees, and hiring
The Solar Company currently has 25 employees and is currently seeking additional installers and salespeople. Its team includes people who’ve worked in other states where solar power is very popular, like California, Colorado, and Alaska.
“Our guys have done solar fields, massive industrial projects. Megawatts and megawatts of solar panels,” Wildeman said.
The startup doesn’t do any single-family residential work, and uses only its own employees to do installations. Its customers also include industrial warehouses, storage facilities, and car dealerships, mostly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Solar fields may come next
The Solar Company is also exploring installing a few solar fields soon—”three or four hours away in East and West Texas, and a couple down near Austin that we’re looking at,” Wildeman said.
The solar fields would be installed for private investors—oil and gas companies and CRE companies—”people that are looking at this because you’re essentially selling the power back to the grid.”
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