Summit County is leaping at the opportunity to buy into community solar gardens, even before the gardens themselves have been approved or marketing efforts initiated, developers said.
"It's a really great fit for a community like Summit County where people really understand environmental things and they also understand the financial viability," said Lauren Suhrbier, director of project development for Clean Energy Collective, the private company that aims to construct two solar gardens on Breckenridge-owned properties. "The reason it's so exciting is that Summit County has responded to the opportunity in ways that other places haven't in terms of the interest."
The solar gardens would allow individuals, businesses and local governments to buy solar generated at the garden to offset their energy bills without installing panels or arrays on their own property.
Based on submitted letters of intent, the smaller of the two proposed solar gardens is poised to sell out completely if approved for construction, and the second, larger garden also has significant interest.
With the presentation of a financially viable and aesthetically agreeable model for the solar gardens, the town of Breckenridge is expected to offer up the Stilson and McCain properties on the north end of town to house the facilities.
"The town of Breckenridge really wants to make sure pieces of that garden are carved out for town of Breck businesses and citizens," town manager of financial services Brian Waldes said. "The goal is to make sure the Breckenridge community gets to participate and also the county at-large."
But before anyone can participate, the gardens have to be approved by Xcel energy, a process which could put Summit County's proposed solar facilities up against other projects in Colorado in a competitive bidding process.
"We're really doing our best in partnership with the town of Breckenridge and the High Country Conservation Center to win the applications and to be first in line," Suhrbier said. "But it's going to be very competitive."
The application program is expected to open by the end of the month, with a final decision by Xcel soon afterward.
The smaller of the two gardens will be about 500 kilowatts, while the larger will be nearly 2 megawatts.
If the projects are approved, construction could begin before winter.
Summit County government, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Silverthorne and Dillon are among the interested subscribers in the gardens.
Subscribers will be required to purchase at least one kilowatt of energy, which will likely cost $3,000-$3,500. Solar garden owners may see a return on their initial investment within a few years of the purchase.
No one entity will be allowed to purchase more than 41 percent of the total garden, though Breckenridge officials said the town could make use of all of the energy that will be produced by the larger garden.