Ask Eartha: Solar gardens on the way in Summit County
Ryan Summerlin June 27, 2012
Xcel Energy’s Community Solar Garden program will (finally) open at the end of July, with 4.5 megawatts (MW) available in the “standard offer” range, meaning projects from 10 kilowatts (kW) to 500 kW in size, and another 4.5 MW available for projects 501 kW to 2 MW in size through a request for proposal process. On behalf of Summit County citizens and the Town of Breckenridge, our project developer, the Clean Energy Collective, will be submitting an application in each category, one for 500 kW and one for closer to 2MW. If accepted, the projects will begin ground work before the winter and be fully constructed next spring. We had originally hoped to have projects fully constructed this year, but with the program not yet released, this looks doubtful.
The projects are expected to be located on Town of Breckenridge land, and available to anybody with an Xcel Energy meter in Summit County. For those of you who have forgotten exactly what a community solar garden is, it is a large photovoltaic array, located in Summit County, that allows anybody to purchase a subscription. Clean power is “virtual net-metered” to your energy bill. The projects take advantage of optimal site locations and economies of scale. As it turns out, over 70 percent of rooftops in the U.S. are not suitable for solar. If this is you, then the solar garden allows you access to clean energy without worrying about your own roof space.
We are currently accepting interest from Summit County citizens, non-binding of course, until the project is secured and we can provide final numbers. If you have not yet filled out a subscriber interest form, please do so online at www.easycleanenergy.com/xcelsummitcounty. It helps our chances of getting the project from Xcel, and the competition will be steep. We expect at least 12 MW of applications in Colorado for the 4.5 MW standard offer. If you are wondering why it has taken so long for Xcel to release the program, the main reason is that over the course of the past year, many different entities have questioned specifics of the solar garden terms, delaying the process. This is because Colorado’s program is the first wide-scale release of such rules and regulations. California is expected to follow suit with its own program. This gives national companies a real stake in the precedent that Colorado sets. We can feel good knowing that what we are doing is groundbreaking as far as structuring clean energy production, distribution and financing.
The best part of our local community solar gardens is that if both projects are accepted and we build 2.5 MW of solar here in Summit County, we will be reducing more than 5 million pounds of carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere annually and increasing our regional energy independence. We owe the Town of Breckenridge a big thank-you for leasing land to the project. We also owe a big thank-you to Summit County Government, Town of Silverthorne, Town of Dillon, and A-Basin, to name a few of our interested subscribers. This is truly a community project and one we are excited to see get off the ground. Call the High Country Conservation office with any questions.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.