Swaths of spindly black-eyed susans seemed to nod in agreement Tuesday as 10,000 silvery panels they encircled stood soaking up sunshine and converting it into energy.

It was celebration time at the Pikes Peak Solar Garden, which is generating solar energy for those who don't want panels on their rooftops.

Shares of energy from the 2-megawatt garden, Colorado Springs' biggest, were snapped up more than a year ago, and about 20 would-be subscribers have been relegated to a waiting list.

Delivery starts in September, when the energy is poured into the grid for Colorado Springs Utilities, which then doles it out and credits to customers, who pay garden developer SunShare for their piece of the action.

Manitou Springs quickly signed on and is thought to be the first U.S. city that will power all of its municipal buildings with solar.

"Our solar subscription means Manitou Springs will realize its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction goals by 2015," Mayor Pro Tem Coreen Toll said in a news release.

The Pikes Peak Library District will use the solar for all electricity at Library 21c near Briargate.

The Security Sanitation and Water District, which provided the land, also is tapping the garden, as are the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and 20 households.

On the same site sits Colorado Springs Community Garden, also developed by SunShare and set to serve UCCS, Colorado College and 42 households.

The state of Colorado developed the community solar garden idea in 2010, SunShare reports.

But Colorado Springs was first in the nation to create a competitive solar market four years ago, said David Amster-Olszewski, SunShare founder and CEO. Now 24 states have community solar programs, he said.

"To be quite honest, they (city leaders) prodded us. At least three different city councils have been involved," said Utilities CEO Jerry Forte.

The Tuesday garden tours drew Colorado Springs City Council members Larry Bagley, Jill Gaebler and Bill Murray, as well as former Councilwoman Jan Martin and former state Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, both of whom are credited with being pioneers of solar gardens in Colorado Springs.

The first was Venetucci Ranch, connected in 2011, followed in 2012 by SunShare's Good Shepherd garden and Colorado Springs Solar 1 (Bradley Substation), developed by the Clean Energy Collective.

In all, about 440 residential and seven commercial customers tap the solar garden program, said Amy Trinidad, CSU public affairs specialist.

Those aren't the only sunshine farmers in Colorado Springs, however. Fort Carson has its own solar garden and distributes all of its energy on the post. The Air Force Academy produces 6 megawatts and consumes it all, after it's sold to CSU and then sold back through a power-purchase pact that lets Utilities claim Renewable Energy Credits.

A pending 10-megawatt Clear Spring Ranch solar array will feed directly into the Utilities grid when it starts operating before the end of 2016.

"Our City Council proactively created the community solar garden program in 2011 to make affordable solar power available to our customers. And the program has been met with tremendous public support," Forte said.


Contact Billie Stanton Anleu: 636-0371

Twitter @stantonanleu

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