Church, schools get in on community solar project

September 21, 2012
photo - Jon Vanderwall with RBI Solar works to install one of 2,500 solar panels Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at SunShare's new community solar garden under construction on property owned by Good Shepherd United Methodist Church.  Photo by MARK REIS/The Gazette
Jon Vanderwall with RBI Solar works to install one of 2,500 solar panels Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at SunShare's new community solar garden under construction on property owned by Good Shepherd United Methodist Church. Photo by MARK REIS/The Gazette 

Panels are going up in the second community solar garden in Colorado Springs.

The 2,500-panel solar garden is on three acres of land adjacent to Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in southern Colorado Springs. The church and SunShare partnered for the project, exchanging $1 million in solar power over 50 years for the use of the church-owned property.

“We can’t lose,” said church trustee pro-tem Loy Jones. “It’s a win-win situation.”

The property has belonged to the church since it was built more than 50 years ago, Jones said. A community garden or development on the land never worked out, he said.

A church member told the trustees about SunShare’s first Colorado Springs community solar garden at Venetucci Farm. A solar garden was touted as a great way to use the land year-round, Jones said.

As agreements were finalized, the project was explained to the congregation. Nearly every member of the 390-member church voted in favor of the solar garden.

“It’s better for the environment,” Jones said, adding that ultimately, he plans to have solar energy covering his needs at his home.

Other homeowners and several schools that reserved panels also will reap the benefits of solar energy.

At least one school in the region is well on its way to cutting its electric bill altogether. The Colorado Springs School purchased 600 panels at the church solar garden. Coupled with an earlier investment, solar power could eventually cover 75 percent to 90 percent of the school’s energy needs, SunShare president David Amster-Olszewski said.

The Colorado Springs School leased the last 509 panels available at SunShare’s array at Venetucci Farm. Donors covered the costs.

The first purchase of solar panels fueled interest among Colorado Springs School supporters. A California Foundation operated by the parent of a graduate gave the school $235,000 to invest in SunShare’s next phase of development, Kevin Reel, head of the school, said in an email to council members.

“This is out-of-town money that is now going toward developing jobs and utility infrastructure in Colorado Springs,” he wrote, urging the council to allow for more solar projects.

Colorado College has three solar arrays on campus rooftops, and reserved 1,000 panels of the Good Shepherd solar garden. The solar panels at the church will be dedicated to Palmer Hall’s energy needs, said Chris Coulter, CC facilities services director.

“That gets that building closer to carbon neutrality,” he said. About 3 percent to 4 percent of the energy used at CC comes from renewable sources.

Erasing CC’s carbon footprint is a long-term goal, he said. Another solar project is in the works for the children’s center, and the school has purchased wind power through Colorado Springs Utilities.

Savings from renewable energy is put back into education programs and other student projects focused on sustainability, Coulter said.

“There’s a trickle-down impact,” he said

Manitou Springs High School will have three panels at the church, including one that was donated. The energy is dedicated to lighting the athletic field, said Angelita Surage, teacher and sponsor of the ecology club.

Students raised money and pooled club funds for the purchase, but they want to do more.

“We’ve been trying to do big solar projects for about five years,” she said. “We’re still working on it.”

Participation in the solar garden is a small statement of what they want to do, and it encourages the students, Surage said.

“It’s a good experience for them,” she said.

Amster-Olszewski said he expects construction of the solar garden to be completed by the end of this month and power generation to begin in October. Colorado Springs Utilities must complete inspections when construction is finished.

There still are solar panels available at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church project. Most of the panels were sold at the beginning of the year to people interested in the sold-out solar garden at Venetucci Farm, Amster-Olszewski said. “We have not been actively marketing the project,” he said.

A one-time payment of $550 per solar panel will save the average ratepayer $1,100 over 20 years. The cost included a Utilities rebate. The minimum two-panel lease will cut the average electric bill by about 10 percent. Installation, maintenance and insurance is included in the price.

St. Mary’s High School is considering reserving some panels at Good Shepherd, said Amster-Olszewski.

The Colorado Springs City Council approved community solar gardens about a year ago, allowing anyone in the city to buy or lease solar panels in a central installation and receive a credit on their home electric bill. However, there is a limit of 2 megawatts of solar gardens, with no company being able to take more than half that capacity. SunShare and others hope eventually to convince the city to lift restrictions to allow more projects.

“Unless things change, this would be the last solar garden we could build in Colorado Springs,” Amster-Olszewski said about the Good Shepherd project.

The first SunShare project was a 500-kilowatt, 2,500-panel solar array built by SunShare at Venetucci Farm.

Carbondale-based Clean Energy Collective has plans for at least one project, on land it’s leasing around a Colorado Springs Utilities substation near Interstate 25 and South Academy Boulevard.

Contact Kristina Iodice: 636-0162 Twitter @GazetteKristina Facebook Kristina Iodice

Comment Policy

LoginORRegister To receive a better ad experience

Learn more
You are reading 0 of your of 0 free premium stories for this month read

Register Today To get to up to 4 more free stories each and every month

  • Get access to commenting on articles
  • Access to 4 more premium pieces of content!
  • See fewer annoying advertisements
We hope you enjoyed your 4 free premium stories
Continue reading now by logging in or registering
Register Now
Already registered? Login Now