Colorado Goes Crazy For Solar Gardens

It’s safe to say there’s a hunger for community-owned solar power in Colorado.

Thirty minutes after it opened, all 4.5 megawatts of Xcel’s Solar Rewards Community program were filled – and then some – as developers looking to bring solar to utility customers unable to put panels on their own homes and businesses leaped at the new opportunity.

solar gardens colorado

Mid Valley Solar Array, near El Jebel, Colorado. (image via Clean Energy Collective)

Under the first round of this “solar garden” offering, groups that get in – profits or nonprofits – can develop solar installations up to 500 kilowatts in size (to give you an idea of how big that is, the typical single-home system might be 2 to 5 kW). Xcel pays the developer for the power and the renewable energy credits produced; the developer sells or leases an interest in the installation to subscribers; and subscribers receive credit on their Xcel electrical bill for the energy generated by the system.

“The success of this initial offering and the fact that it subscribed so quickly clearly shows that this is a beneficial and desirable program for our Colorado customers,” David Eves, president & CEO of Xcel’s Public Service Company of Colorado, said in a statement. “Solar Rewards Community makes solar energy available to a new, broad group of customers and we are pleased with the interest shown.”

Xcel this year is looking to offer 9 megawatts through the solar garden program, the maximum allowed by law. Half that amount is going for small solar, while the other half is set aside for competitive bidding among developers looking to build systems ranging from 500 kW to 2 MW. The company said it is seeking approval to offer another 9 MW next year.

Community-based solar isn’t new – the U.S. Department of Energy lists a number of cities, utility districts and the like who offer programs. Those programs are generally small and narrowly structured by the utility itself (as in, say, Arizona). The Colorado program, by contrast, allows the subscriber organization to organize itself within broad outlines (except for low-income subscribers, who must make up 5 percent of each installation’s allocation, subscribers must go in for a minimum of one 1 kW, and no single subscriber can have more than 40 percent of the total).

One organization taking advantage of the new Xcel program in a big way is Clean Energy Collective, out of Carbondale, Colo. While Xcel hasn’t yet released the full roster of organizations accepted into the program, Clean Energy Collective said it was awarded six gardens totaling 2.5 MW – nearly two-thirds of the total.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

    • http://twitter.com/richmignogna Rich Mignogna

      When we were in the midst of the rule making for solar gardens at the PUC, we knew this would be a very popular program. What will be interesting will be to see the number of folks who subscribe and what the terms will be for subscribers. Financial feasibility depends on having the development fully subscribed.

      • Pete

        Indeed, the details and follow through will be very interesting. Thanks for your comment, Rich.