REC Solar completes first community solar project in Colorado

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REC Solar has completed the first of four community solar projects in Colorado under the state's Community Solar Gardens Act legislation implemented last year.

The 500kW Boulder Cowdery Meadows Solar Array is also the first community solar project completed under Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Community programme which allows the utility's ratepayer to directly purchase energy from off-site “solar gardens”.

Andy Noel, director of utility-scale EPC at REC Solar, said: “Boulder was very attractive because we have a very large residential presence and about 75% of the people we interact with can't put solar on their home or on their business. It gives us another tool in the toolbag to be able to have a backup offer for residential customers that can't put solar on their roof.”

REC Solar designed and built the array and also has a further three sites in Colorado under construction in a 2MW portfolio of community solar projects.

The Cowdery Meadows project will be will be operated and maintained for utility company Xcel Energy by Clean Energy Collective (CEC), based in Carbondale, Colorado. CEC has 19 facilities built or under construction with nine different utilities in four states with an installed capacity of 7.5MW.

The project is the company's first structured under a rate schedule, rather than a power purchase agreement. Residential customers will get a 7c per kWh bill credit and 11c per kWh from Xcel, which is mandated to purchase the Renewable Energy Credits. Commercial customer with high demand charges may end up with a 20c per kWh credit plus 11c for the REC.

Paul Spencer, president and founder of CEC, said: “Utilities are slow to adopt solar out of fear, they're fearful is this going to somehow jeopardise their business and that's very logical and it's very real. But a lot of that can be addressed in how you address the solution.”

Colorado's Community Solar Gardens Act was passed in 2010 to allow Xcel Energy to supply solar power to its customers. A solar garden must have at least 10 subscribers within the same county, and a maximum size of 2MW.

Noel said that legislation had created good market certainty for the large developer.

“If we're wanting to deploy capital on a project we would like to have more formalised legislation in place,” he said. “If we see that legislation is on the way and we feel confident that something is going to pass, we would engage in our early stage development but probably not put down a lot of expensive chips on those projects to spend money.”

California currently has two community solar bills proceeding through the legislature and the state's investor owned utilities have put forward their own community solar plans to regulators.

Spencer said: “If you're looking for the maximum amount of penetration or systems being built, then statewide policy is most effective. But if you're looking at the speed in which you can get solutions deployed, statewide policies take a long time.

“We've come up with a solution where we can partner directly with the utilities without any legislation. That's why we have all these solutions out there today because we haven't waited for legislation.”

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