Community Solar Gardens —
Bright Spot in a Tough Year for Solar

feature photo Clean Energy Collective's 858 kW array adjacent to the Garfield County Regional Airport is the largest community-owned PV development in the country.

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Like Tim Tebow in his final game of the season, solar energy has absorbed some major body blows in the last several months.

By David A. Hill, Executive Editor

It started with Xcel Energy’s announcement last spring that it was substantially reducing the Solar*Rewards rebate program, which directly impacted solar installers in Colorado, accelerating a shake-out that was already underway. Then, later in the year, the Solyndra debacle took center stage in the media, and only last week, Abound Solar announced a major workforce reduction, as it ‘abandons work on its first-generation module and switches to a next-generation module that will be much more efficient,’ according to a company release.

One bright spot,however, has been the interest and growth of solar gardens.

In the latest indicator, Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association (PVREA) announced is partnering with Carbondale-based Clean Energy Collective (CEC) to launch a community solar program with a development at PVREA’s headquarters site near Windsor. The facility will provide an opportunity for members of the electric cooperative to purchase solar panels to offset their electric use.

The project will encompass more than 400 solar panels generating 115,000 watts of electricity. CEC will fund construction of the project, slated for late spring, 2012. Once completed, PVREA consumers will be able to purchase panels for $618 per panel and will receive monthly bill credits for the power produced by their panels. Under the power purchase agreement, the project may beexpanded up to 2 megawatts as new members join.

“We are committed to economically incorporating renewable energy initiatives and seeking ways for our consumers to benefit from a more diverse energy portfolio,” said Poudre Valley REA CEO Brad Gaskill. “Clean Energy Collective provided a turn-key solution that we can easily integrate and will be attractive for our consumers.”

The solar garden concept allows all consumers to participate in renewable energy, including renters, those with poorly sighted properties and individuals of all income levels, without having to build a costly system of their own, and reap the benefits directly on their monthly electric bills through the utility.

“Poudre Valley is an ideal partner for community solar and we look forward to offering all of their consumers the opportunity to benefit from solar ownership,” said Paul Spencer, Clean Energy Collective founder and president.

Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association is a member-owned, not-for-profit electric distribution cooperative serving more than 35,000 consumers in Boulder, Larimer and Weld Counties in Northern Colorado. PVREA has 98 consumers with small renewable energy projects and over 650 PVREA consumers already participate in the utility’s Green Power program. In 2011 they purchased more than 24 million kilowatts of electricity from renewable sources.

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