On Friday, Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., joined project partners and volunteers to help install a community solar array that will provide 50% of the power demand for up to 20 qualified low-income families served by Fort Collins Utilities.
The 64 kW project is the fifth of its kind under a statewide initiative between the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) and nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives demonstrating how community solar projects can be deployed by rural electric co-operatives and municipal utilities to lower the electric bills of low-income residents.
Last year, the CEO awarded GRID a $1.2 million grant to add low-income community solar with utilities across the state. The five projects completed so far total 538 kW and serve up to 170 qualifying families deemed the utilities’ highest-need customers – those who spend more than 4% of their income on utility bills. Ultimately, GRID expects the initiative will deploy 1 MW community solar capacity, reduce power bills for at least 300 families and provide 4,000 hours of installation training to help local workers join the solar industry.
“CEO’s community solar demonstration projects with GRID and our utility partners are about championing the delivery of clean-generated electricity to help reduce energy burden,” said Jeff Ackermann, director of the CEO. “As a result of bringing more clean energy onto the system, income-stressed households and utilities work together to diversify electric generation.”
“Our rural electric and municipal utility partners are leaders in ensuring low-income rate-payers have access to solar energy,” said GRID Alternatives Executive Director Chuck Watkins. “Reduced energy costs for these families means more money in their pockets for other expenses like food and medical bills, and these projects also have an integrated job training component that is helping people access jobs in the growing solar economy.”
On Friday, Hickenlooper, volunteers, benefiting subscribers and job trainees came together to install 240 solar panels for the Fort Collins Utilities project. Executive Director Kevin Gertig said Fort Collins Utilities is interested in expanding renewable energy access with the community solar model.
“Fort Collins Utilities has a long-running history of local support for renewable energy technology – like the Wind Pioneers Program that helped make community wind shares a reality in 1998, strong expansion of rooftop solar, community shared solar programs, and large commercial and institutional solar projects,” said Gertig. “Our current project, a shared solar array to provide both job training opportunities and long-term benefits to low-income households, is a perfect example of a project that will deliver environmental, economic and social equity benefits to Fort Collins.”