Driving around the metro area and elsewhere, you have probably noticed huge installations of solar panels on open land and wondered who built and who benefits from them.
Bigger installations, such as in the Mojave Desert, are utility-scale installations owned by electric utilities to replace fossil-fueled facilities. Smaller installations, such as the one north of 64th Avenue on Highway 93, are owned by community solar companies or non-profits.
The concept of community solar is to rent or sell portions of such installations to individual utility customers. The kilowatt-hours generated by those solar panels are then credited to the usage on subscribers’ electric meters.
It’s a perfect solution for customers like Rita and me, who sold their home and are now living in an apartment or condo building where they can’t install their own solar panels. The really neat thing about community solar is that when you move, your solar generation is merely reassigned to your new electric meter — no need to buy new panels.
Small businesses can also take advantage of community solar. Golden Real Estate, for example, moved last November from its solar-powered office on South Golden Road into a storefront on Washington Avenue in downtown Golden. Community solar is the only way that we can continue to be solar-powered since we can’t install solar panels.
Denver-based SunShare describes itself as the nation’s oldest community solar company with over 10 years’ experience building and maintaining “solar gardens” across the state. Their website says that they have built 116MW of solar panels and have 14,000 subscribers and three utility partners. Learn more at their website, www.MySunShare.com.
Community solar was legalized in Colorado in 2010 with the passage of the Community Solar Gardens Act (HB 1342). The following year, SunShare opened for business, and in 2015 the Colorado Energy Office partnered with GRID Alternatives to construct a community solar demonstration project to serve low-income Coloradans.
Colorado Springs Utilities was the first utility to create its own solar garden for 278 subscribers in 2011. That 0.5-MW installation has since grown to a 2-MW installation serving 435 customers.
Community solar can be a good deal for rural landowners, providing a predictable revenue stream for otherwise non-producing acreage.
Renting or buying photovoltaic panels in a solar garden costs money, so you’re still paying for electricity, but the rule of thumb is that what you spend on community solar is about 10% cheaper than buying the same amount of electricity from the utility.
Some of us don’t worry about the size of the savings but simply “go solar” because it’s the right thing to do.
To learn more, in addition to visiting SunShare’s website, I suggest Googling “community solar Colorado.” You will find other companies offering community solar, learn the history of it in Colorado, and decide whether it is right for you.
You may find that existing solar gardens are sold out and you’ll be put on a waiting list for a future solar garden.
Whether you are putting solar panels on your own property or subscribing to a solar garden, consider upsizing your investment instead of basing it on your current usage, since the chances are that you’ll be buying an electric vehicle and you’ll want electricity from the sun to power it, too.