Steamboat Springs Northwest Colorado’s new community solar garden in Craig won’t open until at least mid-June, but the panels themselves are available for purchase right now by private households, businesses, governments and nonprofits.
Yes, for my business
Yes, for my house
Yes, I’m a renter and it will help with my electric bills
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The solar garden is a collaboration between Yampa Valley Electric Association — the rural electric cooperative in Steamboat Springs — and the Boulder-based for-profit solar panel business, Clean Energy Collective.
CEC will break ground on the new solar garden at the Craig wastewater treatment plant as soon as the weather permits and then maintain it for the long term. The electrical energy it produces will go directly to the power grid, but YVEA will post a credit on monthly bills to its members who own one panel or more. The credit will correspond to the amount of electricity generated that period by the panels the consumer owns.
The initial credit to purchasers of 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.
The cooperative’s 7,000-square-mile service area comes to within 10 miles of the Utah border and includes the communities of Baggs and Savery, Wyo., where customers also are eligible to buy solar panels. The town of Oak Creek in Routt County is not in the YVEA district.
CEC built its first solar garden in the Roaring Fork Valley, and the model has proven successful enough that the company now oversees 13 power-producing solar gardens with more than 15 others under development.
CEC enterprise sales manager Kevin Morse told a Steamboat audience Thursday that the core of his company's business plan focuses on the fact that people who purchase solar panels in the garden don’t have to deal with the expense and uncertainty of installing a rooftop system on their residence. Instead, consumers can take advantage of the economy of scale offered by a large, centrally located solar array to tailor their investment to meet their budget.
Anyone can get involved for as little as $825 for a single 300-watt panel priced at the pre-construction rate of $2.75 per watt as long as they last, Morse said. And the installation in Craig is sited for optimum solar benefit, something most people can’t achieve on the roof of their private homes.
“One of the biggest obstacles to (private) rooftop solar arrays,” Morse said, “is roof design and orientation. Only 25 percent of the rooftops in the country are ideally situated to take advantage of solar, which means 75 percent are not.”
Solar gardens also are ideal for people who rent, either a home or small business, but pay their own electric bills.
“When you’re a building lessee, it’s hard to go solar if you don’t own the rooftop,” Morse said.
Individual homeowners can collect 30 percent federal tax credits on their rooftop arrays, and Morse said they’ll be able to do the same by participating in the solar garden. His company will collect the tax credit and pass the entire amount on to the consumer with a commensurate price reduction on the cost of the panels.
That arrangement is particularly advantageous for nonprofits and government entities that wouldn’t typically be able to claim the tax credits directly. And businesses will be able to use the six-year accelerated depreciation for taxes to greatly accelerate the return-on-investment period, Morse’s colleague Amy Thompson said.
Homeowners, with the reduced cost of solar electricity, will see a return on investment that will stretch out throughout a decade. However, should they unexpectedly need to sell their homes, their solar panels will move with them within the YVEA district, or should they move outside the area, they are free to resell their panels with or without the assistance of CEC.
Interested YVEA customers can do a preliminary calculation of their solar savings based on their annual 2013 electricity expenses at CEC’s Web page, or by contacting solar specialist Erin Aldonis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720-644-5725.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1