Back in 2019, the state of Colorado passed the Community Solar Gardens Modernization Act that expanded opportunities for homeowners and others to be part of community solar projects.
Community solar gardens are defined by Clean Energy Resources Teams, an organization dedicated to connecting people to resources for community-based clean energy projects in Minnesota, as centrally-located solar photovoltaic systems that provide electricity to participating subscribers. They’re designed for people who want to use solar energy for their home but are unable to do so on their own, according to the Clean Energy Resources Team.
Two years after the Community Solar Gardens Modernization Act was passed, Union Solar Investors, Excelsior Energy Capital and Namaste Solar have partnered to bring four new community solar gardens to Aurora. Unico Solar will be the owner and operator of the project.
The project will be able to give power to office buildings, homes and retail stores. Community solar gardens are seen as an alternative for when a building’s roof isn’t large enough to put solar panels on it. For example, in Golden, only 22 percent to 27 percent of residential rooftops are suitable for solar panels, according to a study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. There are many households and businesses in the country who do not have access to solar energy because they rent or live in multi-tenant buildings.
The largest community solar garden in the state resides in northern Colorado where the garden can give power to 450 homes across the state. The garden generates more than 5 megawatts DC and serves 13 counties and 40 cities.
Colorado adopted the United States’ first statewide community solar gardens program in 2010, but the state fell behind other parts of the country because of project size limits and other reasons. By the end of the third quarter of 2020, there were 40 states with at least one community solar-project. Over the next five years, the country’s solar market will add 3.4 gigawatts which will be enough to power around 650,000 homes.
The Community Solar Gardens Modernization Act helped pave the way for the Aurora community solar gardens because it allows for the gardens to be placed next to each other. Community solar projects have proven benefits that include reducing emissions, accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels and can help residents save money on energy bills each month.
Colorado’s Energy Office is part of the National Community Solar Partnership that was created by the U.S. Department of Energy to expand access to community solar in the country — particularly in areas where low and moderate income households reside. Colorado has around 70 community solar projects and has more projects that are in the works.