Co-op aims to make solar accessible to Craig property owners

As the Yampa Valley prepares to make the transition from coal generated power to alternative energy sources, there is a growing movement to make solar more accessible for local property owners. 

Solar United Co-op, a nonprofit whose mission is to help people go solar, has launched the Northwest Solar Co-op to serve Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco Counties. 

“We’re getting ready to go through a huge transition,” said Bryce Carter, program coordinator for the Northwest Solar Co-op. “There’s a lot of questions and a lot of unknowns. Solar is not the only answer, but it’s part of the answer.” 

The purpose of the co-op is to bring a large group of property owners together in order to leverage more competitive pricing. Carter said the goal is to get 100 members signed up by Sept. 2. 

Joining the co-op doesn’t mean that someone is making a commitment to buy a solar system, but it does provide access to more information about how to make the move. Additionally, co-op members will be able to take advantage of the cooperative pricing once a solar installer has been selected. 

Currently, the co-op has 45 members and a request for proposals has already been issued to get bids from potential solar installers.

Solar United Neighbors has about 60 installers on its distribution list for the request. Carter said the request deadline should close next week, and they anticipate getting at least three responses. 

The next step in the process will be for co-op members to review the bids and select an installer. Any co-op member can sign up to serve on the selection committee. 

Right now, the majority of the co-op members are in Routt County, so Moffat and Rio Blanco County residents are encouraged to join. 

There were about 20 Moffat County residents who attended a lunch and learn at noon Thursday, June 23, at the Craig Chamber of Commerce, which has been a local supporter of the co-op in helping gain access to solar for community members. 

During the presentation, Carter offered a quick rundown of how solar photovoltaic — or solar PV — technology works and how grid-connected systems can be set up. Solar technology has matured over the past 10 to 12 years and each panel has the capability to convert 20% of the sunlight that hits the panel into energy. 

The co-op will be getting bids for grid-connected systems for both residential and commercial properties. The systems will consist of solar panels and an inverter, which will be installed and connected into a building’s existing electrical system. 

Carter said that buildings with outdated electrical systems might have trouble installing a solar system. 

Energy is collected through the solar panels as direct current. After it’s collected, it goes through the inverter that converts the energy to alternating current, which is how energy is delivered through the grid. 

The inverter is connected to the electrical system of the building, so after the energy is converted, it can power the building. The system will first power the energy needs of the building, and any excess energy that isn’t being used will go back into the power grid. 

Energy that is not used will offset electricity costs for the building owner. Carter emphasized that the return on the systems may not be seen immediately, but over the lifetime of the system, it can be significant. 

Presentation materials estimated the average cost for a 4 kilowatt capacity system to be $12,800. There is currently a 26% federal tax credit in place. In 2023, the federal tax credit will be reduced to 22%. 

Carter said there is a good likelihood that co-op members will be able to install systems in the fall or in 2023, in order to take advantage of the tax credits. Contracts for installations under the cooperative pricing will need to be signed by the beginning of October. 

Even with a quote, there is no obligation to purchase. Solar United Neighbors projects a 20-30% installation rate from the Northwest Solar Co-op. For more,

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