Community solar project overcomes obstacles to provide equal access to net metering

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 Maury and Gerry Kaplan decided a little too late into the construction process at their home in Basalt, Colo., that they were interested in installing solar panels.

The house was facing the wrong way, and there were too many trees and rock walls to shade the panels and prevent them from producing a lot of power, Maury Kaplan said.

He was sorry he hadn’t planned ahead, and at first thought the diagnoses meant he wouldn’t be able to purchase solar power for his home. But then he read in the local paper that a company in the Roaring Fork Valley was about to launch a new kind of solar energy cooperative that he could buy into. It’s a sort of community solar garden.

The Clean Energy Collective, near El Jebel, Colo., is a 338-panel solar farm inside a gated residential community where people in the valley can buy individual panels and receive credits from Holy Cross Energy, the local power provider for much of the area.

The Kaplans heard about it and met with someone from the Collective at a coffee shop in Basalt.

“We were really blown away by the simplicity of the idea,” Kaplan said. “They showed us how we could offset half our electric bills and get the maximum amount from tax credits. It looked almost too good to be true. But in this case, it was true.”

The Kaplans bought 43 solar photovoltaic panels through the Clean Energy Collective. The program went online in October. Kaplan said he got a $79 credit on his November energy bill. It dropped to $39 in December, which is expected during the winter in this popular ski valley near Aspen.

“I’m a fanatical skier,” Kaplan said. “I can’t decide if I’m sad I’m getting a lower credit or happy with the fresh powder.”

The Clean Energy Collective has sold out its panels in El Jebel and is now constructing a new community solar garden for Holy Cross customers at the Garfield County Airport in Rifle, CO.

Clean Energy Collective spokeswoman Lauren Martindale said the challenges to launching the project have been many. This project is the first of its kind in the country.

There are other virtual net-metering programs, especially in California, she said. But their ownership models are different. Many allow people to buy shares in the energy that the project produces and accept credits.

In the case of the Clean Energy Collective, customers buy an actual solar panel and receive the deed and title to a specific solar panel with a specific serial number, Martindale explained while touching the corner of one of the 231-watt REC panels.

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Image courtesy of Clean Energy Collective.