Solar gardens about to fruit in Colorado

Solar Farm near mountainsColorado has one of the country’s best laws to promote community solar gardens and the model, which allows members of the community to buy a part of a larger photovoltaic array and offset part or all of the electric costs with the power generated by their modules in the array. And the gardens are about to bloom throughout the state as they compete for incentives that will soon be offered through Xcel Energy subsidiary Public Service Company of Colorado’s Solar Reward Community program.

While Xcel hasn’t yet allowed planned gardens to sign up for the program, already a bevy of planned community solar gardens are vying for a chance to sign up. “At this point we’re waiting for Xcel to tell us when they plan to open up applications for the program,” said Joy Hughes Founder of advocacy organization Solar Gardens Institute. “We expect it to be very soon now. The docket for Xcel’s 2012 compliance plan is wrapping up and I think everybody has exhausted all their exceptions. If that’s the case, they’ll open up the program pretty quickly, they said by the end of July,” she said. It may get pushed back into August, however.

Hughes also recently spent time touring solar gardens and supporters around the country. “Everywhere I went I felt like I saw the same energy behind it. Local state groups are very independent, they’re hungry for knowledge and the ability to get their projects done,” she said. “What really surprised me was to have so much involvement from the utilities. The utilities are very much supporting the community solar projects in all of these states.”

While many gardens are competing for just a few of the spots offered by Xcel, there’s still an air of cooperation, according to Hughes. “I would call it friendly competition. The Solar Gardens Institute has some kind of relationship with most of the developers working with solar gardens in Colorado. They are very friendly very collegial relationships,” she said. That’s because the competition is among groups with the same overarching goals. “Solar Gardens Institute is working to foster that competition and collaboration,” she said.

This is just the first time that Xcel is offering the Solar Rewards Community program. “After this first round goes through and we see what happens we’ll talk to our state legislators about a follow-on bill about any issues that come up,” Hughes said. If there’s a lot of interest in it, they will also push to expand the program.