August 7, 2013 Updated: August 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm
Colorado Springs-based SunShare LLC has signed a contract with Minneapolis-based utility giant Xcel Energy Inc. to build five solar gardens in the Denver area later this year, marking the company's first expansion outside of El Paso County.
The company also was named a finalist Monday to build five solar gardens in Sacramento, Calif., pending completion of a "due diligence" and negotiation process with the city's Municipal Utility District by late next month, said David Amster-Olszewski, SunShare's founder and president.
SunShare also plans to bid on a series of solar garden projects during the next three months in Colorado Springs, elsewhere in Colorado and in California that would produce 20 megawatts of power, or enough to serve about 4,000 homes.
"It is amazing to see states such as California, Minnesota and others following Colorado Springs" into community solar energy programs, Amster-Olszewski said Wednesday in a news release.
"For a growth company, the market is sending a strong signal of support," he said.
SunShare will spend $12.5 million to build the solar gardens in Adams and Arapahoe counties. They're expected to be operating late this year or early next year under a pilot program Xcel started in 2012 to finance 22 such facilities across the state. Each would produce 500 kilowatts of electricity.
SunShare and other developers of the solar gardens are paid 10 cents per kilowatt-hour by Xcel for the electricity they produce. Residents get a credit on their bills of about 6.8 cents per kilowatt-hour for their share of the solar garden, which sells for $3,700 for a 1-kilowatt share.
The company, which built solar gardens in the Colorado Springs area in 2011 and 2012, will sell shares in each Denver-area garden to 10 to 350 Xcel ratepayers in Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties. Selling shares typically takes two to three months to complete, Amster-Olszewski said.
If awarded, SunShare's five solar gardens in Sacramento would cost $20 million and each produce 1.2 megawatts of electricity. The company hopes to begin construction on the California gardens within six months if selected for the project, Amster-Olszewski said.
The company began widening its focus beyond Colorado Springs after the Colorado Springs Utilities Board axed a previous plan to expand the city-owned utility's solar garden program. The board proposes to replace it with a plan that reduces credits to customers who buy shares in new solar gardens.
"Last year, we focused on Colorado Springs and this year we have focused on Denver and California and the results have exceeded our expectations," Amster-Olszewski said. "We have demonstrated that we can turn around a project in six or eight months and sell it out quickly."
SunShare plans to bid on another round of solar gardens next month for Colorado Springs Utilities and Xcel, as well as other projects in Colorado and California, Amster-Olszewski said. The company also plans to pursue other Xcel projects in Colorado and Minnesota, he said.
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