An informational and interest meeting for folks eyeing solar gardens in Summit County is slated for 5 tonight at Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant and Cantina in Breckenridge.
Another is slated for the same time Tuesday at the Island Grill in Frisco. Appetizers are provided.
Attendees will learn about solar gardens, what it will take for Summit County to install one, the time line and potential costs. A solar garden is a non-residential array of solar panels that feeds energy onto the grid. Community members can virtually own any amount of solar energy from the garden, which is then credited to the utility bill as "installed wattage." Depending on how the Xcel Energy arranges its incentives, it's likely there will be additional rebates through performance incentives, but nothing will be clear until final rules are released in August, said Lynne Greene with the High Country Conservation Center.
"You can buy and produce solar power without putting in on your roof - with a cost comparable to installing your own system," she said, adding that the purchase is transferable if the individual or enterprise changes location.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission released its guidelines for solar gardens on July 25, Greene said, which means Xcel's compliant rules won't be far behind. She said it could be as early as mid-September that applications are accepted for initial community products.
Greene has been working with Carbondale's Clean Energy Collective and Breckenridge's Innovative Energy to understand and apply the changes as they're occurring. The Clean Energy Collective built one of few successful, large solar garden projects in Rifle, Greene said. Theirs is essentially an ongoing project for which they need vested partners to make happen.
Those partners must be in the form of 10 citizens, businesses or public institutions committed to buying initial shares of the project. They also need land - with a minimal, or free, lease.
On Aug. 9, Greene appears before the Summit County Board of County Commissioners to explain the need. She hopes the conversation will result in a staff directive to find land for the project.
"It looks like there's some strong interest there," Greene said of her one-on-one conversations with commission board members. But, it doesn't have to be county land, she said. Two to three acres of private land from a business or town would also work, though Greene favors the public alternative.
"It brings the different towns together," she said. "It's a cool part of the project. It's a Summit County project."
According to their interpretations, Greene and Lauren Martindale of the Clean Energy Collective say Xcel Energy is offering the best financing options at the program's launch.
Which is why they want to be ready.
"We can't really trust them on their word," Green said of what she understands so far of Xcel's program, "but it does pay to be ready."
Tonight and Tuesday's meetings are mostly informational, with specifics to come on costs (Greene estimates $4 per watt right now), timeline and payment plans when they're released. She said individual residents, businesses and public institutions can sign up at the meetings if they're ready.
"There are a number of hurdles to overcome before it gets built, but I think it'll be a good thing for Summit County - and I'm not the only one who thinks so," Greene said.