Solar investing, war experience spur McCready’s political career

 In April 2018

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North Carolina takes great pride in ranking second nationally for solar-power capacity, a ranking that has many roots, including Dan McCready’s battlefield experience. While leading a 65-member platoon of Marines in Afghanistan in 2007-08, the Charlotte native and Duke University graduate was intrigued that power generated by small solar panels could lessen the soldiers’ reliance on heavy batteries. “It wasn’t because the Marines were interested in being green or sustainable,” he says. “But solar could reduce the need for resupply and allow soldiers to stay in the field longer.”

After his military career ended, McCready went on to earn an MBA at Harvard Business School in 2011 and then took the obligatory postgraduate consulting job: In his case, it was at McKinsey & Co., which takes in $10 billion annually advising global companies. McCready didn’t enjoy the work — too many PowerPoint demonstrations, he says — so he left after a year and joined a friend, fellow Marine Rye Barcott, in looking for opportunity in North Carolina’s nascent solar-energy business. Barcott, another Harvard MBA who had been a special assistant to Duke Energy Corp. CEO Jim Rogers, also was itching for a change in 2013.

“We saw billions of dollars of solar farms ready to be built and an enormous lack of capital investment in that space,” McCready says. The duo started Double Time Capital, the name reflecting their military roots, and prowled for investors to acquire interests in solar projects that would sell power to Duke through contracts of up to 20 years. North Carolina law requires the electric utility to gradually expand its use of renewable energy, giving a big step up for the solar industry. Tax policy also provided a huge incentive through a 35% state tax credit and 30% federal credit: In other words, $1 of state tax liability could be reduced by 65 cents for an individual investing in a solar deal. (The state credit expired at the end of 2015 as part of a push to cut subsidies and simplify the tax code.)

With Harvard and big-company backgrounds, McCready and Barcott knew people whose substantial incomes made solar investments attractive. Rogers, who left Duke in mid-2013, helped the duo make connections and became an adviser. Still, raising money was no snap. It took about 1,000 meetings with investors to raise their first fund of $8 million.

“Many of our investors were initially skeptical because they had heard of industry failures such as [California-based solar-panel maker Solyndra],” McCready says. “Everyone said that you can’t build an investment firm without investing experience. But we didn’t know any better.”

Once word spread, the money chase got easier. Double Time eventually collected about $80 million that has been invested in 36 projects across North Carolina, much of it in slow-growth rural areas. While several institutions including Prudential Financial Inc. put money into the company, most investors are individuals, McCready says.

McCready won’t share financial details, but Double Time’s initial funds have met their projections, according to two sources familiar with the company who asked to remain anonymous.

While McCready says it initially was involved in about 20% of North Carolina’s solar development, Double Time is now a relatively small player compared with companies such as California-based Cypress Creek Renewables, which has raised more than $2 billion for solar projects. It has offices in Durham and Asheville after buying FLS Energy in 2016.

“We’ve needed companies like Double Time to make solar mainstream,” says Michael Shore, an Asheville-based clean-energy consultant and a former CEO at FLS Energy. More than $3 billion has been invested in North Carolina solar projects, he estimates. “The tax credits are a piece of bringing investors to the table. But the credits are a side dish, not the main thing.”

Double Time still manages its existing investments, which include some nonsolar businesses such as Raleigh-based WasteZero, which advises municipalities on reducing trash, and Lyft, the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company. But McCready and Barcott have moved on to new challenges, a decision unrelated to the end of state tax credits. Barcott formed With Honor, a nonprofit that encourages military veterans to run for political office as centrist candidates. McCready, 34, is heeding that call, running this year as a Democrat for the U.S. Congress in a district held by Republicans for more than 60 years.

While Double Time is not raising new capital, McCready is hustling for political donations — in January he reported collecting $1.2 million, outpacing incumbent Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican in office since 2013. While Pittenger, 69, has strong backing from Charlotte-area GOP officials, many well-known local businesspeople are supporting McCready, including former Belk CEO Tim Belk, Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias, investment banker Erskine Bowles and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr.

One of McCready’s main campaign issues is a plan to more than triple the number of clean-energy jobs in North Carolina to about 100,000. “The politicians have been trying to turn back the clock on energy,” he says. “It started with bad trade policy in both the Obama and Bush administrations that allowed China to clobber American solar-panel makers. We can do better than that with forward-looking policies.”

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