Colorado Springs start up aims to create solar garden

Colorado Springs start up aims to create solar gardenWhile Colorado is known for its progressive renewable energy portfolio standard (30 percent by 2020) and strong growth in the solar energy industry, Colorado Springs has seen almost none of the activity.

A small team aims to change that by diving into the deep end and proposing a progressive community solar garden project there.

David Amster-Olszewski worked for SunPower in California, Europe and the Middle East after graduating from Colorado College. He returned to Colorado after the state legislature passed a law making it easier to develop community solar gardens in 2010.

“A lot of people just can’t get solar,” said Garrett Jacobs, who is handling marketing for Amster-Olszewski’s new SunShare company. “David looked at opportunity, and he looked at the Solar Garden act passed last year as opportunity. He’s been working with Colorado Springs Utilities to help facilitate the project here.”

Jacobs left a position with SolarCity to help with this start up.

He and two other SunShare “employees” are working for free with the promise of pay-off later.

If approved SunShare would offer competitively priced solar panels. Those who buy into the Solar Garden would have to buy a minimum of two panels, Jacobs said, at a cost of $550 a piece. So, for $1,100, anyone can buy into the system and get energy and a discount on their electric bill.

Two panels would cover about 10 percent of the typical Colorado Springs electric bill, Jacobs said.

The first step will be to get municipally-owned Colorado Springs Utilities to pass a solar incentive and rebate plan that will apply to solar gardens. The commission is set to vote on a program Sept. 27.

As a municipally-owned utility, it’s not beholden to the same renewable energy portfolio standard as publicly-traded and privately-held utility companies in the state. It is only required to get 10 percent of its portfolio from renewable sources, according to information from the utility.

Colorado Springs Utilities has not aggressively pursued solar or advertised its incentives.

Only 35 households installed solar in 2010, which was significantly more than in years prior. It was also the first year the utility ran out of money to give before the end of the year, according to utility data.

This year is already seeing an increase, with 58 installations so far in 2011.

Still Jacobs and Amster-Olszewski know they’ll have their work cut out for them, raising awareness getting conservative Colorado Springs residents interested in solar.

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