Solar gardens are cropping up all over the place, like in Fort Collins, Col., where Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association (PVREA) recently completed its first community solar garden. The 116 kilowatt photovoltaic solar garden is the nonprofit electric distribution cooperative’s first solar garden.
Community solar gardens are proving popular options for people and businesses who can’t necessarily install solar on their homes or businesses. Instead they can buy a part of the larger installation and use the power generated by their portion of the array to offset their electric bill.
The Poudre Valley REA Community Solar Farm, for instance, is anticipated to generate an average of $35 of electric credits per module annually. PVREA partnered with Clean Energy Collective to build and finance the project. Like many other solar farms, interest in the project was high. “The project was fully subscribed prior to being energized,” said PVREA CEO Brad Gaskill. People bought as few as one module and as many as several dozen modules.
This is PVREA’s largest PV installation to date, and the organization built the project to help diversify its portfolio. Unlike investor-owned utilities in Colorado, which are required to source 30 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020, rural utilities and co-ops only have to source 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.
But that doesn’t mean that PVREA isn’t adding in more renewable energy. “PVREA has a purchase power agreement with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to purchase 100 percent of the power from the recently dedicated Robert V. Trout Hydropower plant and is currently converting the HVAC system at the co-op headquarters to geothermal, ground source heat pumps,” Gaskill said.
PVREA is also offering customers rebates for solar and energy efficiency and allows customers to voluntarily purchase renewable energy. “PVREA currently has more than 100 net-metered residential member systems connected totaling 490 kilowatts,” Gaskill said. “We offer rebates for rooftop solar as well as rebates for insulation, Energy Star appliances, geothermal heat pumps and other heating and cooling applications. Our Volunteer Green Power program has offered electricity from renewable sources since 1999 and accounted for 24 million kilowatt-hours in 2011.”
While the community solar array is PVREA’s largest foray into solar, it may consider adding more in the future. “PVREA plans on analyzing the recently installed array before any future plans will be considered,” Gaskill said.