In 2010, Colorado passed the Community Solar Gardens Act (HB 1342), which enabled the statewide shared renewables pilot program. Colorado expanded the program through legislation (HB 1284) and a 2016 settlement deal with Xcel Energy, but it is still capped at 105 megawatts.
The Community Solar Gardens Act encourages creation of community solar gardens by investor owned utilities (IOUs), with a five percent low-income carve-out. Colorado solar gardens can have a capacity between 10 kilowatts and 2 megawatts, are located in or near the community being served, and must have at least 10 subscribers. Garden subscribers receive full retail credit for their portion of solar generation, with a small charge to cover distribution costs.
Designed with Inclusion in Mind
The Colorado Energy Office launched the first low-income community solar demonstration in 2015. The Colorado Energy Office then granted $1.2 million to GRID Alternatives to implement the Low-Income Community Solar Demonstration Project with a two to one match from participating partners.
The project currently has eight utility partners and six community solar models. Each community solar garden has saved subscribers between 15 and 50 percent on their electricity bill, or an average savings of $382 per subscriber. These projects are expected to reduce electricity costs by more than $3 million dollars over their lifetime. In 2017, the demonstration project had already surpassed its original goal of 300 subscribers, with 380 households benefiting from 1.4 megawatts of community solar.
See Colorado’s program progress in our National Community Solar Programs Tracker
In 2016, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved a settlement with Xcel Energy over one of the most comprehensive low-income solar programs in the country. The settlement approved an additional 117 megawatts of community solar gardens, with 15 percent of the new community solar capacity to be allocated to low-income households.
One of the key aspects of the settlement agreement was the Renewable Energy Standard Adjustment (RESA) fund. RESA was created in 2010 to fund renewable energy projects with taxpayer contributions. However, many low-income households were not benefiting from the use of these funds for solar development. So, along with additional low-income solar developments, the settlement defined the requirements for low-income participation in RESA-funded community solar garden projects.
Both the Colorado Energy Office demonstration project and the Xcel community solar developments are expected to reach around 5,000 low-income families and add new workforce training for residents. Since the inception of the low-income community solar carve-out model, over 400 low-income households have benefited from $120,000 in bill credits.
Xcel Energy documents Colorado’s community solar program in its annual compliance reports.
For more on solar in Colorado, check out these ILSR resources:
- Voices of 100%: Colorado Town’s Residents and Businesses Join Forces for Clean Energy (2019)
- Boulder’s Path to 100% Renewable Energy (2018)
- Voices of 100%: Shifting the Paradigm toward Renewable Power in Pueblo, Colo. (2018)
- Colorado’s Community Solar Program Allots 9 MW in 30 Minutes (2012)
- A First Look at Colorado’s Community Solar Gardens (2011)
- Colorado Voters Approve Renewable Energy Ballot Initiative (2004)
Learn more about Community solar in one of these ILSR reports:
|Designing Community Solar Programs that Promote Racial and Economic Equity|
|Minnesota’s Solar Gardens: the Status and Benefits of Community Solar|
|Beyond Sharing — How Communities Can Take Ownership of Renewable Power|
For podcasts, videos, and more, see ILSR’s community renewable energy archive.
Featured photo credit: Let Ideas Compete (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)