On March 1, Garfield Clean Energy (GCE) kicked off Solarize Garfield County (Solarize), a three-month initiative intended to increase the number of residences in Garfield County utilizing solar power generation. The Solarize program is a component of GCE’s overall objectives of increasing energy production from renewable resources, increasing energy efficiency and reducing petroleum consumption in the county.
GCE is a collaboration among the county, the six municipalities between Parachute and Carbondale, Colorado Mountain College and Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. It is managed by Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), a nonprofit consulting firm headquartered at the Third Street Center in Carbondale.
As Dave Reed, communications director for CLEER, explained in an email, “Solarize Garfield County is a program of GCE, [and] CLEER is contracted to run the programs of GCE.” He continued, “The Town of Carbondale is a member of GCE. Separately, [the town] contracts with CLEER to run its own clean energy programs. While Solarize isn’t technically a [Town of Carbondale] program, it supports the town’s long-term goal of being 100% carbon neutral by 2050.”
Maisa Metcalf, CLEER’s director of consumer engagement, hopes that the Solarize program will “inspire [those] who have been thinking about going solar to take action now.” And, indeed, it has. “Close to 300 people have already signed up [i.e., expressed interest] for the program,” she noted. “And about a dozen have signed installation contracts, including three in Carbondale” since March 1.
As part of the Solarize launch, CLEER hosted a Zoom webinar on March 4, which introduced Rich Clubine, vice president of Active Energies Solar, based in Avon. Active Energies was selected by Solarize to be the sole installer for the program. Clubine described in detail the various steps involved with installing residential solar arrays, noting, “We handle everything for you.”
First, after a homeowner signs up for the program (via the GCE website; see below), an Active Energies technician determines what level of power generation is needed – typically seven 11-kilowatts for a residence but no more than 120% of the home’s overall electricity usage.
An on-site evaluation is then scheduled, first to determine the feasibility of installing solar panels, and then to estimate the cost of installation. Once the owner signs a contract, Clubine estimated installation would take place six to seven weeks after approval is given by the municipality. The work itself will take one to two days typically, and, after it is completed, an additional day or two will be needed for inspection and certification before it is operational.
Although the price is relatively high – in the neighborhood of $15,000-$25,000, depending on the size of the array – Metcalf pointed out that the cost is approximately 80% lower than a decade ago. “We use panels manufactured by Solar Edge,” Clubine explained. “In addition to being cheaper and more efficient [than earlier panels], they are all black,” as opposed to the grid pattern of older models. He added that financing will be available.
Clubine anticipated that nearly all installations will be on rooftops, noting that Colorado law requires property owners to allow them. Ground arrays, however, are not only more expensive to install but may be subject to restrictions by homeowners’ associations or other entities.
By bundling a large number of installations under one program, Active Energies can offer below-market rates on installation (about $2.80 per kilowatt), as well as rebates based on the total number of kilowatts installed during the Solarize project. The highest rebate amount will be $500 per installation if the overall total reaches a million kilowatts or more.
As an added incentive, those participating in the Solarize program can receive rebates from the Holy Cross Energy and Glenwood Springs Electric utilities. Xcel Energy is not offering rebates, but those customers can apply for a limited number of $1,500 rebates through Solarize. Finally, homeowners installing solar arrays this year and next will be eligible for federal tax credits of up to 26% of the project’s cost.
During a Q&A session, Clubine was asked about the relationship between the solar arrays and utilities. “Colorado has strong ‘net metering’ laws,” he noted, explaining that utilities are required to store energy generated by solar panels and provide power when needed (e.g., at night). Customers are charged only for their “net” energy use – electricity purchased minus that sent to the power grid. Any surplus generated by the solar panels counts as a credit that can be used later.
Another question had to do with power outages. Clubine explained that power must be shut down in the grid until repairs are made. Thus, the solar array won’t work unless the customer purchases a separate backup battery system. He added, “A 10-kilowatt system costs in the $10,000-$12,000 range.”
Metcalf noted a strong interest in batteries. “Seven of the dozen contracts so far include [them], and CLEER is planning a follow-up webinar on battery storage.”
The Solarize program sign-up runs until June 4. To learn more, contact GCE at garfieldcleanenergy.org/solarize or call CLEER at 970-704-9200.
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