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Solar Company Sale: A New Wave In Energy?

File: Utah Solar Energy Association
Some say the merger of SunEdison and Utah-based Vivint Solar signals a time when people rely less on centralized energy and more on rooftop solar and other small-scale energy sources that are used onsite.

The world’s largest alternative energy development company, SunEdison Inc., announced last week it’s buying a Utah rooftop solar company in what some people see as a sign of a power revolution.

Last week Missouri-based SunEdison announced it would pay $2.2 billion for Lehi-based Vivint Solar.

“We’re happy to be part of the family,” said Vivint Solar CEO Greg Butterfield, praising the merger’s synergies in a July 27 conference call with investors. “We’re very excited, and we look forward to work with you to not just build the largest renewable energy company in the world but the largest energy company.”

Vivint leases rooftop solar panels in a program it promotes door-to-door to homes and businesses outside Utah. That portfolio of 523 megawatts complements SunEdison’s global scope.

Todd Stevens, managing director of the Salt Lake City investment company,  RenewableTech Ventures, that specializes in alternative energy. To him, the Vivint deal represents a signal that how we get energy is undergoing the kind of revolution we’ve already experienced in computing. People used to do their computing on centrally located main frames. Now, Stevens says, everyone relies on smart phones.

“It’s almost to the point where that parallel with computing power is going to be coming into energy production,” he says.

Stevens calls this a shift toward distributed power, where there’s less reliance on centralized coal-fired power plants and more on rooftop solar or neighborhood wind farms, where energy is used where it’s produced.

“I think SunEdison sees the market shifting,” he says, “a lot more interest in solar, a lot more opportunity for Vivint in the future, so they were willing to pay a premium.”

Vivint has about 4,000 employees, and the company did not respond to requests for information on whether any of those jobs might be lost in the merger. The executive team is part of the merger,  which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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