New solar garden planned for Craig captures buying interest of elected officials in Routt County

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— A community solar garden planned for Craig has captured the interest of the Steamboat Springs City Council and the Routt County Board of Commissioners.

During a joint meeting of the two bodies Tuesday night, the commissioners and the council resolved to have their staffs look further into the possibility of purchasing panels at the garden being built this summer as a collaboration between Yampa Valley Electric Association and the Clean Energy Collective.

“I would very much like to see us purchase into this system at some level,” council member Sonja Macys said, adding that she thought it would be an opportunity for the city to “lead by example” in utilizing more renewable energy.

The solar garden is open to any YVEA commercial or residential customer, and panel owners will receive monthly credits on their electric bills.

The electricity will be pump­ed into YVEA’s 7,000-square-mile service grid.

Initial credits to purchasers of the solar electricity will be 10 cents per kilowatt-hour compared to YVEA’s current rate of about 7.8 cents per kwh, giving solar garden panel owners a margin of savings.

Macys acknowledged earlier Tuesday that the up-front cost of purchasing into solar can be substantial, but the cost savings can come in the long run.

“One of the things I think about the solar garden is it protects you against price increases. Even a minor price adjustment of electricity can have an impact,” she said.

“My money is on (electric) prices going up.”

She said before signing off on any solar purchase, she thought the council would need to do some more research into the potential savings.

Many of the council members expressed excitement about the project, but they still wanted to take a harder look at the numbers and potential savings.

Some also pondered whether other arrays could be constructed in Routt County.

“My first run of the numbers is that if we could count on a 3 percent escalator of the cost of power moving forward, we’re looking at annual return on investment of 4 percent,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said.

City Council member Kenny Reisman wanted city staff to compare the merits of purchasing into solar against, for example, improving the cooling system at the Howelsen Ice Arena, an action that could result in energy savings and a benefit to users of the facility.

The solar garden, south of Craig, is projected to provide 577 kilowatts of clean power capacity from 1,922 solar panels, according to the Clean Energy Collective.

A federal tax credit is expected to help lower the purchase price of the panels.

The potential of purchasing into a solar garden is expected to return to the City Council’s agenda in March, along with more details from city staff about the potential costs and savings.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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