Solar gardens to supply subscribers in RiNo, Stapleton and Green Valley Ranch
Read Full Article. A company that wants to see Colorado become a national leader in community solar projects is installing three new arrays in the Denver area, including one in the River North district.
Denver-based Pivot Energy’s new projects include a 140-kilowatt rooftop “community solar garden” on the roof of S*Park — Sustainability Park — a mixed-use development in Denver’s River North, or RiNo. The array could produce enough electricity for about 35 homes.
Another new solar garden is a 100-kilowatt array on the roof of Stanley Marketplace in the Stapleton neighborhood. It could supply the equivalent of 25 homes.
A third installation, in Denver’s Green Valley Ranch, has roughly 3,070 panels and will generate about 1 megawatt of electricity, enough to supply 250 homes, when the power starts flowing.
Community solar gardens, which Colorado helped pioneer, are centralized arrays of solar panels that users “subscribe” to. They are aimed at people who want to use solar power but whose roofs aren’t suitable, who live in an apartment or can’t afford to install a system. Between 50 percent and 75 percent of U.S. electric customers can’t access traditional rooftop solar systems, according to a 2018 report by Green Tech Media Research.
Subscribers to community solar projects pay the owner or manager of the solar garden and get credits on their utility bills. It’s typical for subscribers to pay about 10 percent less than they normally would, said Jon Sullivan, Pivot Energy’s vice president of project development.ADVERTISING
A state law approved in 2010 requires that a certain percentage of subscribers be low-income. At least 10 people must sign up for a solar garden.
“A community solar garden is a perfect blend of localized solar and utility-scale solar (power),” said Rick Hunter, Pivot Energy CEO.
Community solar projects are also the fastest-growing sector of the solar-energy industry, Hunter added. Green Tech Media Research reported in 2018 that community solar projects had reached a five-year compound annual growth rate of 53 percent, compared with 26 percent for all solar installations.
However, the report also noted that community projects made up less than 2 percent of all operating solar projects.
A bill in the Colorado General Assembly could help open new opportunities for community solar ventures in the state, Sullivan said. The legislation, House Bill 19-1003, by Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, would increase the maximum size of a solar garden to 10 megawatts from 2 megawatts. It would also drop the requirement that subscribers be in the same or adjacent county as the project’s physical location.
The subscribers to Pivot Energy’s new projects are a mix of public agencies, including a metro-area recreation district and low-income housing units.
The proposed changes to the law would allow Pivot Energy and other companies building and financing community solar gardens to build bigger projects in areas outside cities, where there is more space, and sell the electricity to urban customers, Sullivan said.
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“It would drive down the costs overall. It would catapult the program,” Sullivan said.
Hunter said the benefits of decentralized, distributed generation of electricity include less need for more, expensive infrastructure and development of a more resilient system in the face of storms and other problems that could otherwise knock out power to many people all at once.
Pivot Energy, which also has offices in Chicago and St. Louis, builds, finances and manages community solar gardens in Colorado and other states. It has developed a total of 22.4 megawatts of the projects across Colorado, with 6 megawatts of the energy serving low-income subscribers.