Executive Profile – John DeVillars
Source: Jay Fitzgerald, Boston Business Journal
John DeVillars’s BlueWave Capital LLC is living proof that there’s indeed a vibrant solar-energy industry in America after the Solyndra and Evergreen Solar debacles.
Solyndra and Evergreen became the poster boys of highly questionable government polices after the two solar-panel makers went belly up in 2011, after each received millions of dollars in direct government grants and loans to build manufacturing plants in the U.S.
DeVillars, the former chief of environmental protection in Massachusetts and later the top environmental regulator for the federal government in New England, wants people to understand there’s a big difference between his company and the Solyndra and Evergreens of the world.
“That’s a whole different universe,” DeVillars said of solar-panel manufacturing. “We’re solar-energy developers. We buy solar panels. We don’t build them, thank goodness.”
The fact BlueWave and other solar-energy developers have nothing to do with the manufacturing side of the sector partly explains why they’ve prospered so much in recent years in Massachusetts and elsewhere. The demand side of the solar-industry equation is as strong as ever, thanks largely to government-backed incentives. As a result, BlueWave, which acts as a broker within the solar-development industry, has helped to develop as much as 41 megawatts of solar power in Massachusetts in recent years, via six major projects. Two of those projects are now under construction or about the start construction: a four-megawatt solar facility in New Bedford and a six-megawatt solar facility in Plymouth.
DeVillars said BlueWave, which works with major power-generation investors such as ConEdison Solutions and Duke Energy, has about a dozen other projects in the pipeline in Massachusetts.
The only problem facing the local solar industry right now is that it’s almost become a victim of its own success. Development of solar facilities has already exceeded the state goal of building 250 megawatts of solar power by 2017. There are now applications for 800 megawatts of solar power in the state, far exceeding the 400 megawatts cap as outlined in the 2008 state Green Communities Act. The state is expected to increase that cap to about 1,600 megawatts, or enough to power 240,000 homes.
“Massachusetts has definitely got it right from a policy standpoint in encouraging solar development,” said DeVillars, whose firm employs about 10 people in Boston.
Solar development was not BlueWave’s original goal when it was founded early last decade. After his gig as New England administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, DeVillars established BlueWave as a holding company with the goal of developing brownfield sites across the state and region, DeVillars said.
But it eventually evolved into a solar-development company about four years ago, after the Green Communities Act was passed, creating a new market for clean-energy development. The attraction of solar power for developers is a combination of federal tax credits and the trading of lucrative state “Solar Renewable Energy Certificates” between utilities that have to meet certain clean-energy standards.
DeVillars, 64, downplays the importance of his connections as the past chief of environmental protection in Massachusetts and across New England. “That was 13 years ago,” he said of his last public-service job. “The old personal relationships haven’t been consequential.”
The solar-development industry has evolved in Massachusetts into a fiercely competitive market with a number of major players. Among BlueWave’s top rivals are Broadway Electric Co. and Nexamp Inc. in Boston.
Andrew Kaplan, a partner at Boston’s Brown Rudnick and the former corporate counsel for the state Department of Public Utilities, said he’s impressed with the robustness of the solar-energy market in Massachusetts. “You just see a whole lot more solar developments these days,” said Kaplan, who represents many energy-storage companies in Massachusetts. “It seems to be working.”