This is one of two solar gardens installed and maintained outside Breckenridge by Clean Energy Collective.

Courtesy photo

This is one of two solar gardens installed and maintained outside Breckenridge by Clean Energy Collective.

Craig's solar garden to light up renewable opportunities

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Yampa Valley Electric Association co-op members will soon have the option to participate in one of Northwest Colorado’s first solar ventures.

Clean Energy Collective, a Colorado-based group that aims to provide clean power generation to people regardless of housing ownership status, partnered with YVEA to build a solar garden in Craig.

The garden is an effort between the city of Craig, CEC and YVEA.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Colorado installed 56 megawatts of solar electric capacity in 2013. The entire state has 359 megawatts of solar energy capacity, or enough to power 68,600 homes.

“What we do is we provide the interconnection point from their system back to our system,” said Steve Johnson, chief operating officer and vice president for YVEA. “Our partnership will allow the energy produced by the solar garden to be placed on the electric grid so that it may be utilized by all YVEA members.”

Those who rent or own property on YVEA’s electric grid can purchase one of the $825 panels. Each panel will save consumers about $45 per year on their electric bill. As of Oct. 8, consumers had purchased 46 percent of the garden.

In June 2013, the Colorado Senate passed a bill that requires YVEA to have 20 percent of the energy in their portfolio come from renewable sources by 2020.

“It benefits us to meet the Senate Bill 252 mandates that were placed upon us,” Johnson said. “It allows us to accumulate power from green energy sources.”

Solar energy by the numbers

More than 346 solar energy companies in Colorado employing 3,600 people

359 megawatts of solar energy currently installed in Colorado

$233 million invested in personal, business and utility solar energy in 2013

$5.50 to $7 per watt to install solar systems

Average 2,000 watt-system (2 kilowatts) costs between $11,000 and $14,000 to install before tax credits and rebates

2 kW system saves consumers an average of $280 on their electricity bill

Source: Solar Energy Industries Association, Colorado Energy Office

YVEA put out a call for proposals for renewable projects nearly two and a half years ago, and signed the contract with CEC a little more than a year ago. The project was not originally driven by legislature.

"We actually decided to do a renewable project as a result of member interest and Senate Bill 252 punctuated the need to move forward on that," said Tammi McKenzie, YVEA's director of marketing.

The garden will be next to Craig’s water treatment plant, and will be able to produce just over half a megawatt of energy, or more than 5,000 100-watt light bulbs’ worth. It can power 88 homes that require a 6 1/2 watt electrical system, which is what the average home requires.

Craig City Manager Jim Ferree said building the solar garden is a “win-win-win” for Craig.

“It's adjacent to our sewer lagoons out in the county and we have no future plans for it, so it's making good use of some idle property that's not in use for the city's operations,” Ferree said. “It meets CEC’s needs, and also satisfies a need for Yampa Valley Electric.”

The city of Craig leases the land to CEC in exchange for 5 kilowatts of power per year, or $800 in savings on the city’s electric bill.

CEC’s proprietary remote meter measures the performance of the panels and calculates the amount of energy generated in the garden. The energy distributes to panel owners based on the number of panels purchased in the garden.

The credit rate for energy produced by the panels is set by the power purchase agreement between YVEA and CEC. Todd Davidson, director of marketing for the CEC, said the credit rate is tied to inflation.

“If you buy enough panels to cover your bill 100 percent, the bill credit rates will always go up with the kilowatt-hour price set by YVEA, so you’ll still be covered 100 percent,” Davidson said.

About 50 percent of the garden’s panels have been bought so far. Those who wish to buy a panel can get a Clean Energy Loan through Sooper Credit Union or pay for the panels in full.

The garden was expected to break ground in fall of 2014, but leasing issues prevented CEC from beginning the project.

Trapper Mine, a surface coal mine about 5 miles south of Craig, owns the mineral rights under the solar garden ground. This means Trapper Mine owns any natural gas, coal, oil or any other natural resource that lives under the solar garden.

“There became a mutual understanding and anything they do underneath shouldn’t affect the surface,” Davidson said. “It’s so far underground, it’s not an issue at all.”

Construction is now set to begin this month (October).

Contact Janelle O'Dea at 970-875-1795 or jodea@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @jayohday

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