Community solar project going up in Gypsum | VailDaily.com

Community solar project going up in Gypsum

Dylan Reitenbach explans how the panels are connected during a presentation of the new solar array community Thursday in Gypsum. The solar community will help offset energy costs to low-income families, which is a cheaper alternative than rooftop solar power.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com |

DO YOU QUALIFY?

Find out by calling 303-968-1326 or emailing colorado@gridalternatives.org

EAGLE COUNTY — Installing rooftop solar panels may seem like a futuristic way of powering your property, but that could soon become a practice of the past.

The alternative is community solar arrays — small solar farms which harness energy from one location to power many homes — and they make more sense for a list of reasons, cost being atop that list.

Construction is underway on a community solar array in Gypsum from Holy Cross Energy which would power 30 to 40 local homes in a model that could serve as a example for many other places to follow. Visiting the array from Denver on Thursday, former Colorado Public Utilities Commission Chairman Ron Binz said solar has blossomed over the last few years in Colorado thanks to the Community Solar Gardens Act passed by the state Legislature in 2011.

“Rooftop solar has had a great run,” he said. “But there’s limitations to that, and it’s still relatively costly. There’s much more cost effective way of doing solar, if you can do it where you buy panels by the pallet load instead of just a few at a time for a roof.”

Holy Cross Energy’s new solar array on Cooley Mesa Road in Gypsum will be a 145 kilowatt facility for income qualified residents of Eagle County. The panels were donated by SunEdison and installation is coming from Grid Alternatives, a nonprofit organization who used volunteer labor in building the array, some from the very persons would will benefit from the project.

“I’m convinced that community solar, projects like this — 150 kilowatts up to a megawatt, distributed locally — that’s going to become the model that eclipses rooftop solar,” Binz said.

GRASSROOTS SOLAR

Holy Cross Energy is an energy co-operative, meaning that the customers are also the owners of the utility. Speaking on behalf of the co-operative, Holy Cross Energies board member Megan Gilman said undertaking the new community solar effort in Gypsum was in response to desires expressed by Holy Cross Energy’s co-operative members, or customers.

“We’re well in excess of all of the state-mandated amounts of renewable energy,” she said. “So we’re really doing this in response to our members instructions to us to get them more renewable energy.”

It will be the first solar effort in Eagle County solely dedicated to income qualified members. Joe Pereira, the low income energy services director with the Colorado Energy Office — which provided financing for the project — said the project has been an important one to his office due to the grass-roots nature of the project.

“These solar systems are community based, they’re going to neighbors in this community,” he said. “I’ve never seen organizations that are as member driven as Holy Cross and the other partners that we work with.”

The project is the third delivered to energy co-ops in Colorado by the energy office as part of a $1.2 million effort to install community solar systems across the state.

“It’s becoming more and more of a challenge to make ends meet because of the cost of energy,” Pereira said. “This program and this partnership we’ve put together to develop community solar for income communities was really a response to that.”

Holy Cross Energy has not yet selected all of the 30 to 40 homes which will benefit from the new solar system in Gypsum. Eligible participants will represent those households that earn less than 80 percent of the median income in Eagle County. Those interested in qualifying or volunteering should call 303-968-1326 or email colorado@gridalternatives.org.