An electric cooperative on Colorado’s Western Slope was the first utility in the U.S. to give community-owned solar a chance in 2010. Four years and 2.6 megawatts (MW) later, it was a decision that helped revolutionize the way individuals and businesses go solar nationwide.
A member-owned cooperative, Holy Cross Energy (HCE) provides electricity to more than 55,000 ratepayers throughout Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties. Paul Spencer, an electrical engineer and Basalt native, was helping design a net-zero neighborhood in the Roaring Fork Valley, but the shade cast by old cottonwood trees made rooftop solar impractical for the 89 homes. He proposed that HCE use a centralized solar array, in which individuals would buy panels and receive credits on their utility bill for the clean energy produced. “Holy Cross said if we could figure it out, they’d support us,” Spencer recalled. He founded Clean Energy Collective (CEC), and community-owned solar was born.