Third community solar garden blossoms in Springs

By: NED B. HUNTER
December 18, 2012
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photo - The new owners and potential owners take a tour of the new community solar garden south of South Academy Boulevard and I-25 on Tuesday, December 18, 2012. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT,  THE GAZETTE
The new owners and potential owners take a tour of the new community solar garden south of South Academy Boulevard and I-25 on Tuesday, December 18, 2012. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE 

A third community solar garden — and the first by Carbondale-based Clean Energy Collective — has been built in Colorado Springs.

Clean Energy Collective opened the first phase of a nine-acre solar garden Tuesday that will be capable of producing 500 kilowatts of power when operating at capacity, said company founder Paul Spencer. That is enough electricity to power 100 homes. The 2,210 solar panel garden is south of the Stratmoor Valley subdivision off Interstate 25 near South Academy Boulevard.

Community solar gardens, or farms, are a cluster of solar panels in a central installation; customers don’t receive the power provided by the gardens directly but receive a credit on their home electric bill for the power produced. Clean Energy sells the solar panels  in its garden for $565 per panel, Spencer said. That cost is after a rebate provided by Colorado Springs Utilities.

People must purchase at least two panels. Each panel will reduce the owner’s electric bills by an estimated $34 annually, or $2.83 per month,  Spencer said. The average January electric bill for Colorado Springs Utilities customers is expected to be $68.44, according to Utilities’ website.

Solar panel owners can continue to collect the monthly credit as long as they live within the area served by Colorado Springs Utilities, Spencer said. Those who move out of the area can sell their panels or donate them to charity, he said.

Clean Energy Collective had to abandon an earlier bid to build a solar farm atop an old landfill at Woodmen and Powers boulevards because the site was outside Utilities’ service area.

SunShare, a Springs company, already has two community solar gardens within the city with the option for people to either buy or lease its panels, said David Amster-Olszewski, SunShare’s president. His company offers 20-year leases to customers for $550 that includes the rebate from Colorado Springs Utilities. The lease covers all maintenance and insurance fees for the 20-year period, he said.

While Clean Energy Collective does not lease its panels, the purchase price covers all maintenance and other fees as well. Both companies offer financing.

SunShare built its first community solar garden at Venetucci Farm and its second a few miles from Venetucci at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in southern Colorado Springs.

Clean Energy Collective owns 16 solar gardens in three states, Spencer said. He said community solar gardens are the only way to provide solar energy power to every home and business in the country.

“The sheer fact is that only an estimated 15 percent of the houses in the U.S. can even have solar power,” he said, “because they don’t have enough property to do it on or there is too much shading.”

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