Solar power from more than 220,000 new panels southeast of Colorado Springs started flowing into the grid this month — enough to power about 22,000 homes each year.
The 60-megawatt array is the largest solar installation contracted to provide power to Colorado Springs Utilities and represents the most recent step toward a more renewable mix of energy for the utility, according to a news release.
“The beauty of having renewables in your portfolio is you are prepaying for fuel,” Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin said.
Solar arrays will provide electricity to ratepayers at a fixed price, which is preferable to the volatility of natural gas and coal costs, he said. While the price of natural gas is low, less than $2 per MMBtu, about 15 years ago it spiked to about $15 per MMBtu, he said.
The newly completed Palmer Solar Project brings Utilities’ solar generation to 114 megawatts or about 10% of the utilities generation capacity, according a recent Utilities’ presentation.
The array will be owned by Duke Energy and will be operated and maintained by Juwi, another solar company, for the first two years, Benyamin said. Juwi sold the project to Duke Energy in 2019 a few weeks after crews broke ground on the project; however, Juwi is committed to maintaining the project for the first two years.
Utilities has the option to buy the solar array from Duke Energy at any time, Benjamin said. Buying the array could benefit the utility by giving it full control over its power generation, he said.
Utilities contracts with outside companies to build and operate solar arrays so the companies can take advantage of tax credits and pass along that savings through lower costs for electricity, said Amy Trinidad, a Utilities spokeswoman. It also protects Utilities from risk because the developer is responsible for the system’s performance, she said.
The next big renewable energy project for Utilities will be a 150-megawatt solar array paired with 25 megawatts of battery storage, Benyamin said.
It is expected to be completed by 2024 and will bring the utility’s renewable generation to about 20% of its capacity.
The two solar projects are part of a movement away from large generation facilities such as Martin Drake Power Plant to more distributed energy that will include large solar arrays, rooftop solar, wind turbines and battery storage, he said.
Utilities staff members are evaluating how to transition from fossil fuels in the coming decades. For example, staff are examining how Utilities could transition to 100%, 80% and 60% renewable energy by 2050, among other options for future energy generation, according to Utilities’ documents.
The Colorado Springs City Council, which also serves as the Utilities Board, is expected to evaluate and select a plan for the long-term energy transition in July, according to Utilities’ documents.
“Our organization is getting comfortable seeing what the future holds,” Benyamin said.
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