Dear Eartha, I’d love to get solar panels on my house, but I live in the woods and my roof is shaded most of the day. Are there any other options?
Rooftop solar sure is sexy, but there are a variety of reasons why it might not be a good fit for everyone. So, if you rent, live under the cover of trees, or worry about the upfront cost of panels, can you still benefit from solar electricity?
Community solar 101
Absolutely! Community solar gardens are great alternatives for both homeowners and renters. What’s a community solar garden? It’s a large collection of solar panels that multiple people can subscribe to. When you subscribe to a solar garden, you are assigned a portion of those panels, and you receive monthly savings on your electric bill for the electricity your panels produce. Because the solar panels are located elsewhere, no equipment is installed on your home or apartment.
It used to be in Colorado that in order to participate in a community solar program, the garden had to be installed in the same county or an adjacent county as the customer (that’s you). That put us mountain folks a pickle since much of the land in and around Summit is not only expensive, but also forested, steep and under federal jurisdiction. And, as if you needed a reminder, it’s also snowy a good bit of the year. Fortunately, the state changed that rule in 2019, which means we can subscribe to solar gardens anywhere as long as they’re connected to Xcel Energy’s grid.
The utility connection
Speaking of Xcel, you might wonder who builds community solar gardens. Most of the time, third-party developers do. Xcel Energy does offer renewable energy programs to customers. It also relies on other solar developers to build new gardens — this helps Xcel, because Xcel doesn’t have to shoulder all the responsibility for building clean energy infrastructure.
Did you know that Xcel has committed to generating 80% renewable electricity in Colorado by 2030? When other developers connect new solar gardens to its grid, Xcel gets closer to that goal. Xcel gives all solar garden subscribers bill credits for the electricity their share of the panels generates, too. That’s how you save money by subscribing to solar. The downside — if there is one — is that the green electrons these panels generate aren’t going directly to your house. You get credit for them, and we all benefit from a cleaner electricity grid.
Go solar — without the panels
Whether you’re a full-time resident, a second-home owner or a renter, if you have an Xcel Energy account, you can sign up for community solar. But how do know what’s available? Xcel has a list of projects on its website. To give you a head start, here are two great options to check out:
- US Solar is partnering with the High Country Conservation Center to fill spots in solar gardens it’s building early next year. The company guarantees 5% bill credit savings for all subscribers. What does this mean? Remember that Xcel will give you credit for the electricity your panels produce. You’ll also pay a subscription fee to US Solar, but the fee is guaranteed to be less than the credits you receive each month, meaning you can benefit from 100% renewable electricity at no extra cost. For every new Summit County subscriber that signs up by Jan. 8, 2023, US Solar will donate $100 to the conservation center. I signed up for my house, and I’ll end up saving $8 a year on my electricity bill.
- Our neighbors with more limited incomes aren’t left out of the solar party. Nonprofit Energy Outreach Colorado has a free community solar program to reduce annual electricity bills by up to 50% for income-qualified renters and homeowners. To qualify, household income must be at 80% or less of Summit County’s area median income. Program applications are available in both English and Spanish. For questions, including verifying eligibility, contact Energy Outreach Colorado directly.
Community solar shines
Why subscribe to a solar garden when our grid is planned to be 100% carbon-free by 2050? Because 2050 is nearly 30 years away. Participating in renewable energy programs now supports the clean energy economy while helping Xcel, the state and our community all meet their climate goals — it’s a win-win-win.