Manitou Springs has agreed to buy all of the electricity for city-owned facilities from a solar array that will be built in the Security area by Colorado Springs-based SunShare, becoming what the company says is the first city in the nation to have all of its facilities powered by a so-called "solar garden."

Manitou Springs will pay 5.6 cents per kilowatt hour and use about one-fourth of the 2 megawatts of power the array will generate, said David Grossman, a spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, which will distribute the power to Manitou.

The agreement doesn't apply to residential or commercial customers in Manitou, but they can sign up individually to get their power through the solar garden.

The Manitou Springs City Council unanimously approved the agreement with SunShare April 15 after a two-month process that included presentations to council. The deal stems from a comment made three years ago by Manitou Mayor Pro-Tem Coreen Toll, who told SunShare CEO David Amster-Olszewski she wanted governments and businesses to be able to buy power from solar gardens. At that time, only homeowners and school districts were allowed to do so.

"Manitou Springs wants to set an example for our community and cities across the nation to follow our lead with this program," Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder said in a news release announcing the agreement. "Not only will our city facilities be powered by solar, but thanks to Colorado Springs Utilities, every resident and business in Manitou Springs now has the ability to join us in this Community Solar program."

Utilities agreed in October to buy renewable energy credits amounting to 4 cents per kilowatt-hour from SunShare for the array in the Security area, allowing the project to move forward. Amster-Olszewski said the company plans to start construction in July and begin generating electricity in October that it will sell to Manitou and other customers. He said another government agency he declined to identify has agreed to buy another 25 percent of the array's power.

The 20-year agreement with Manitou helps the town meet its goal for reducing its carbon emissions 30 percent by 2020, or six years early, Snyder said. If Manitou also agrees to use the array to power its street lights, the city will reduce its carbon footprint by more than 60 percent. That arrangement is under discussion with SunShare, he said.

"There is really no downside to this agreement. If there is a problem, we can always go back to Colorado Springs Utilities and pay the going rate for power," Snyder said. "I am pretty confident this will help us not only meet our carbon reduction goals, but also save us money."

SunShare operates two solar gardens in Colorado Springs that were built in a 2011 pilot program with Utilities. The company has agreements to build 11 more in Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and the Denver area that will generate more than 13 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power more than 3,000 homes.

Solar gardens are large arrays of solar panels that are leased to individuals, businesses and government agencies, which contract to purchase energy that is delivered through utility providers like Colorado Springs Utilities and Xcel Energy. The utilities benefit by buying the renewable energy credits needed by meet state-mandated goals, while customers get a credit on their electric bills for the energy produced by the panels they lease.