- investing, for the most part, in projects that are already in operation or far along in development, in order to avoid costly surprises;
- citing the comparative certainty of its energy sources — the sun and wind — compared with the gambles inherent in extracting, shipping, and refining fossil fuels;
- mentioning growth, pointing out that the costs of renewable-energy technologies have dropped significantly and are increasingly competitive with non-renewable power;
- noting that electricity sales for its installations are fully guaranteed through long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) with such customers as municipal electric departments.
Talk about your slow starts. The only thing “new” about renewable energy is its sudden emergence as a port in the storm, to rescue civilization from the destruction caused by climate change. These means have been available for a while, if we’d only looked there instead of to fossil fuels. New Yorker Charles Fritz created a solar cell that converted sunlight to energy in 1883, and mounted solar panels on his rooftop the following year. In Scotland, James Blythe built a wind turbine to light his cottage in 1887. Now, some 135 years later — and, we hope, just in time — renewable energy is a dynamic growth industry. Fortuitously, one of the characteristics of growth industries such as renewable resources is that they require employees. Since Matt Murphy arrived in Montpelier from Massachusetts in 2016 to establish a Vermont branch for Greenbacker Capital, its staff has increased to 13. Post-pandemic, he envisions perhaps expanding the total to 20 people. Vermont is a good fit for Greenbacker Capital, in Murphy’s opinion. Despite the wealth-management ring to its corporate title, the company provides lots of jobs for operations workers with technical and digital skills. Murphy, who had lived in Vermont and helped Peck Electric of South Burlington found its solar division before moving to Massachusetts in 2011, considers this state fertile ground for professionals in renewable energy technologies. They are drawn to nature, he says, and quotes a saying that “if you want to find operations people [for those industries], you’ll find them at the bottom of a mountain.” But they, like he did when he was here earlier and lived in Waterbury Center, want to be reasonably well-paid for their skills and experience — all the more so considering the increasingly critical nature of the work they perform. At the time, though, that wasn’t happening. “It’s the age-old Vermont story of ‘You can’t make good money here,’” says Murphy, 39.Otherwise, though, he and his wife, whom he met in Vermont, were hooked on the lifestyle they found here. “The day we left we were already thinking about, ‘How can we settle down in Vermont for the rest of our lives?’” His ticket back was Greenbacker Capital, a company founded by veteran investment professionals in New York City in 2011, with satellite offices in Portland, Maine, and Denver, Colorado. In Massachusetts, Murphy worked for Borrego Solar in its operations and maintenance department. That job increased his exposure in the renewables industry, and in 2016 Greenbacker hired him to be a vice president for engineering and technical-asset management. The company has assets — installations — in 29 states, so working remotely was part of the plan. “The deal with Greenbacker was I get to live where I want,” says Murphy. Plus, he was certain he could tap into the skillsets he had found to be abundant among people who were still here and others who had left. “I knew I was going to be able to bring some of those people back,” he says, “with good wages and good jobs. That has been a goal of mine.” Murphy and his wife, who have two sons and an Australian cattle dog named Waffles, bought a house in Montpelier, where he established a home office. In 2019, however, when an acquaintance purchased a building on Main Street and renovated the first floor to house Rabble-Rouser Chocolate and Craft Co., he created a spacious second-floor suite for Greenbacker Capital. Thoroughly modern, in the 21st-century-workspace style, with lots of natural light and a kitchen with an upscale pingpong table, it also contains a half-dozen private offices and a conference room with equipment for linking in distant conferees by video. The most striking feature, though, is a large operations room with a dozen or so raisable desks, the surfaces of which are made of repurposed solar panels. (The desks elsewhere are also of this design.) Right now, because of the pandemic, the office very often is empty, and no more than two employees are permitted to be there at a time. But when the place is jumping, Murphy says, the operations room serves as a monitoring station, with some 10,000 sets of data entering each hour from the company’s assets spread throughout the region. As for his stated goal of luring young professionals to, or back to, Vermont, that’s happening. One of his early hires was a former Vermonter returning from Sweden; another came back from Texas; a first-time Vermonter moved here from Colorado. And Murphy was promoted to COO. Greenbacker, as its name indicates, aggregates investments, whether from individuals, brokers, or investment firms, to finance renewable energy projects. Its website stresses its cautious risk-management philosophy: