Energy Blend: Solar arrays sold out in the Yampa Valley
In the past few years, two utility scale solar projects were built in the Yampa Valley to provide energy choice. Consumers responded by filling both arrays.
“Our expectation is not to replace the coal industry in the area. The amount of production we do compared to coal is a drop in the ocean,” said Tim Braun, spokesperson for Clean Energy Collective. “The idea is providing choice, and we listened to what people want in terms of bringing new projects and more capacity to the area.”
CEC developed the first utility scale solar array for the Yampa Valley.
The array generates about 580 kilowatts and serves about 180 customers, 90 percent of whom are residential. It is located within sight of Tri-State Generation & Transmissions’ Craig Station, which, in contrast, produces about 1,300 mega watts, enough to power more than 200,000 homes.
Designed as a community solar garden, the collective developed and operates the array on behalf of people who purchased panels. Production data is provided to Yampa Valley Electrical Association, which, in turn, applies a production credit to the panel owners’ bills.
“Not all utilities embrace a third party bringing a project to them. But it takes a level of flexibility and forward thinking for a utility to do this. Kudos need to go to YVEA for adopting this program, bringing it in and championing the program,” Braun said.
The array was interconnected to Yampa Valley Electric Association in January 2015. The final panel was sold in July 2017.
“This was a brand new model that the utility had never participated in and that customers had never experienced,” Braun said. “It took a little longer for people to understand the value proposition.”
It also took a little while for CEC to adjust its operations and maintenance to the site’s specific weather, such as snow and cloud cover, to maximize production
“We found a way to implement something new and make it successful. We are excited that the project is at this stage, sold out,” Braun said.
Yampa Valley Sustainability Council supported the CEC project.
“The fact that the solar array is now sold out shows the demand for solar power in our community. We hope this leads to consideration for a second array in YVEA territory,” said Executive Director Sarah Jones.
A few months after the first array was interconnected and supplying power to the YVEA grid, development of a second solar garden was underway.
The purpose of the project is to demonstrate the feasibility of building 100-percent low-income community solar models and reduce household energy burdens.
GRID Alternatives Colorado’s mission is to make renewable energy technology and job training accessible in underserved communities.
GRID was awarded a $1.2 million grant from the Colorado Energy Office to develop a low-income community solar demonstration project in Routt County in fall 2016.
With a total capacity of 148-kilowatts and benefiting 32 low-income families in YVEA territory, more than 500 solar panels help save qualified families approximately $500 per year, said GRID Alternatives Colorado Deputy Director Adrienne Dorsey.
Some of the families benefiting from the system helped build it.
GRID also used the site for it’s first Women in Solar Initiative, bringing 50 women to YVEA’s community solar site to participate in community solar barn-raising, networking and professional development.
“Women from Routt and Moffat counties, throughout Colorado and across the U.S. converged to help families in need, bringing more women into the solar industry and supporting their professional growth,” Dorsey said.
The CEO has commissioned a report, due in November, that will evaluate the success of the project and help inform future initiatives focused on support of low-income consumers.
“The system is fully subscribed, but we are happy to talk to families in the YVEA territory that might be interested in learning more about the project and submitting an application to be added to the wait list,” Dorsey said.
There are no immediate plans to expand either array or develop a third project.
“We don’t have another project planned with YVEA at this time. But we are looking at the potential for something in the longer term,” Dorsey said.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.