The first of two community solar gardens planned in Breckenridge secured final approval from the town Planning Commission, the last step in a long clearance process for the facility officials say will offer a renewable-energy resource to Summit County residents.
A design for the garden on the town-owned Stilson property is ready to go, and Breckenridge staffers say they expect plans for a second project on the McCain property on the north side of town to get the nod from planning later this month, despite some pushback from the public. The town and its private-sector partner, Clean Energy Collective, are on track to have both gardens built by August.
There has been resistance to new solar installations in Breckenridge for several years, since the town pursued a power purchasing agreement (PPA) in 2011 which would have involved the placement of solar arrays at several public facilities.
“We heard these concerns loud and clear around our PPA project a few years ago and went into this project with those concerns in mind,” Breckenridge finance director Brian Waldes stated in an email. “Clean Energy Collective has also been made aware of the importance of achieving a proper aesthetic on both sites. They have plans for screening the McCain array as much as possible.”
But the 500 kilowatt gardens will contain numerous installations and town officials say it won’t be possible to completely conceal the facilities. Opponents of that project and the solar gardens say they support the idea of renewable energy, but think the arrays are unsightly and do not fit the mining-era character of the town.
“What isn’t appropriate is a massive solar farm,” Breckenridge resident Eric Buck said at a recent community meeting. “People don’t come to Breckenridge to see the bleeding edge of technology or to admire the pioneers of environmentalism.”
Solar gardens are designed to allow widespread participation in renewable energy projects. Unlike the power purchased arrays, which must be constructed alongside the facility they power, energy generated by a solar garden can be purchased by and sent to any individual in the community.
Solar is currently selling for $3.70 per watt, or an estimated $925 per panel. It’s money solar supporters say purchasers will make back in savings on their energy bills.
The minimum buy in on the Breckenridge gardens is 1 kilowatt, costing $3,700, and providing $260 in savings in the first year for residential subscribers.
Commercial subscribers could save more, experts say, and both can continue to own the solar for at least 20 years.
Several local governments, including Breckenridge, plan to buy into the project in bulk as well, but officials say they won’t push out the public.
“The town has enormous energy needs, and participating in the solar garden would be a prudent investment for us,” Waldes stated. “However, we also want the community to benefit as much as possible.”
Breckenridge leaders initially planned to buy 400 kilowatts, roughly 80 percent of the total capacity of an entire garden, but with high interest from the public, officials say the final purchase will almost certainly be less than anticipated.
Those interested in subscribing to the solar gardens can get an estimate of their possible energy savings online at the Clean Energy Collective website, www.easycleanenergy.com.