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Photography Credit: Clean Energy Collective 

Pioneering Community Solar Gardens: Colorado

Colorado became the first in the nation to pass state-wide shared renewables legislation in 2010. Five years later, with the Community Solar Gardens Act is delivering on its promise of increasing participation in the state’s growing clean energy economy, Colorado expanded the program further with HB 15-1284.

Today there are about 30 shared solar energy projects built or underway across the state. Take the case of Pikes Peak Solar Garden, which is under construction on a brownfield site near Colorado Springs. What was once unusable land will soon be home to one of the state’s largest shared solar arrays, delivering affordable power to customers like the local library system, the University of Colorado and hundreds of nearby families. The Pikes Peak project just one of a growing number of solar gardens that are clearing the way for more Coloradans to plug in to clean energy.

The Community Solar Gardens Act included direction on a number of design elements that make shared renewables work for utilities, developers and consumers alike. Colorado defines solar gardens as projects between 10 kilowatts to 2 megawatts in size located in or near the same community as the customers being served. These community systems should serve at least 10 subscribing customers. The owner of the system can be either the utility or a third-party operator that contracts with the utility for the solar power production, creating diverse opportunities for market participation. Care was taken to make sure that all of these new megawatts of local solar power add to rather than detracting from the state’s other successful clean energy policies like net metering.

The policy was designed to also create plenty of opportunity for broad participation on the customer side. Families, businesses, local governments and non-profits are all empowered to subscribe to the sun. The policy also put special attention toward ensuring that disadvantaged Coloradans would have the opportunity to participate with five percent of new shared solar projects reserved for low-income customers. This has resulted in partnerships like the one between developer Clean Energy Collective and the Denver Housing Authority to devote a portion of the power produced by three community solar facilities to offsetting the electric bills for approximately 35 families living in DHA facilities. The arrangement is expected to save participants hundreds of thousands of dollars over twenty years – dollars that can serve as a pathway out of poverty rather than being spent paying utility bills.

Community Solar Gardens subscribers receive full retail credit for their portion of the power produced, minus a reasonable charge to cover the utility’s costs of delivering the electricity from the garden to the customer. As with any good net metering policy, this bill credit can be carried forward if it exceeds the customer’s electricity needs in any given monthly billing period.

In short, the Colorado approach meets the four principles of strong shared renewables policy design - and it’s paying off with solar gardens sprouting across the state.