Going green is nothing new to Spencer. An electrical engineer, in 2004, he designed and built his own off-grid home, heated by the sun, and powered by PV and wind-electric systems. Later, he spearheaded the development of sustainably developed neighborhoods and homes, including a pending 89-home development to be powered by a 300 kW central PV array.
Supported by Holy Cross Energy, that project set the stage for the community energy concept. Spencer realized that the most efficient way to incorporate clean energy into the project wasn’t to put a system on each home, but to aggregate the production into a single site. After vetting this idea with the local utility, his vision grew and the CEC was born.
In the spring of 2010, the CEC closed on a long-term lease to build its first member-owned array on land owned by the Mid Valley Metropolitan District (MVMD) in El Jebel. Housed on a 1/3-acre parcel of land unsuitable for development, the facility now hosts a 338-module array (77.7 kW) serving 19 CEC members. The $500,000 investment—including the land lease and cost of the PV array—was funded in a few weeks with 83 customers paying $6 per watt for ownership (the actual price was as low as $2.45 per watt after rebates, discounts and credits).
The system began producing energy in August, with members receiving their first credits in October, the lag due to the CEC ensuring that the array was performing up to standards prior to transferring ownership to its 19 homeowners. Spencer says the wait period will not occur in the future.
“It’s a great use of the land,” says MVMD executive director Bill Reynolds, who explains that the power generated by the array goes directly onto the Holy Cross Energy grid. “And CEC members actually own the system.”
While the pilot facility is the second-largest PV array in the Roaring Fork Valley, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the CEC’s other plans. In July, the CEC closed on its second lease for an array that will also send energy to Holy Cross Energy. Located at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, the 5-acre site will produce 15 times the electricity as the El Jebel site. With 5,200 modules, the 1.2 MW facility will be the largest privately owned PV array in the state, serving as many as 500 CEC members. It is scheduled to go online by this summer.
The CEC is far from done. It’s currently in negotiations to build several more systems, including a 2 MW facility in Eagle County on 8 acres of capped landfill near Wolcott; a 400 kW site on 1.5 acres in Snowmass Village; and a second site in El Jebel—1.2 MW on 5 acres. “We’re rolling,” says Spencer. “We want to start making clean energy available to absolutely everyone in the Valley and beyond.”
Like any good idea, timing is everything—and Spencer’s couldn’t have been better. While he was launching his first project, local politicians were also championing the solar cause. U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) announced a new bill to create jobs, strengthen the clean energy industry, reduce taxes and increase the nation’s use of solar energy. His Solar Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Act of 2010 modernizes the federal tax code regarding solar energy. If it passes, homeowners who invest in community solar projects would be able to take a 30% tax credit—just like those who install PV systems at their houses.
This push for clean energy use shows: Colorado currently ranks fourth in the nation in clean-energy employment and has the second-highest renewable energy standard for utilities.