Colorado: Green coalition aims for 1 million solar roofs

3 gigawatts of solar by 2030

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A grassroots Colorado coalition of government leaders, business and environmental organizations want to increase the production of solar power tenfold in the next 15 years, but the effort faces a major challenge, as Xcel Energy wants to cut the rate it pays to consumers who feed power into the grid.

Xcel has proposed cutting its net metering rate in half, and the company has also asked the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to declare net metering a subsidy.

Renewable energy advocates said the utility’s arguement is flawed: A comprehensive study done by Crossborder Energy found that far from being a subsidy, net metering contributes up to $11 million in benefits each year to the grid. The debate over net metering is currently before the PUC as part of Xcel’s 2014 Renewable Energy Standard Compliance Plan.

Net metering requires investor-owned utilities to credit customers who invest in solar panels for the excess electricity they supply the electrical grid at the retail rate. Net metering is fundamental to the viability of rooftop solar for both homes and businesses.

Regardless of the potential challenges, the coalition has called on Gov. Hickenlooper to to think big on solar with a goal of one million solar roofs. The Million Solar Roofs campaign is touting the economic benefits of solar energy, and it nearly goes without saying that the effort could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado.

“There’s strong public support for expanding solar in Colorado,” said Margaret McCall, energy associate with Environment Colorado. “We’ve made great strides on solar in Colorado, and the progress we’ve made to date should give us confidence that we can take it to the next level.”

The campaign, officially launched earlier this year, includes the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, Environment Colorado, and several other organizations; it sets a goal of installing 3 Gigawatts of solar energy in Colorado by 2030. The goal includes both rooftop solar and larger arrays.

“The right to choose where Coloradans get their energy is fundamental to who we are. We are all looking to manage and control our energy costs, to identify and opt for cleaner energy sources when possible and to harness for our family, our home, and our business the immense energy that comes from the sun,” said Jason Wiener, Co-Owner and General Counsel for Namaste Solar and former Board President of COSEIA. “The million solar roofs project paints the vision for where Colorado’s energy future is headed. This is the goal and therefore the challenge of our generation.”

The popularity of the campaign across a variety of constituencies and geographical regions demonstrates the diverse base of support for solar power in Colorado.

“As a small farm, we realize every day that anything we can do to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel, lower our cost of doing business and reduce our footprint on this world is a good thing,” said Craig McHugh, owner of A Joyful Noise Farm in Black Forest.

Reaching the goal of a Million Solar Roofs would displace 3.6 million metric tons of global warming pollution each year — the equivalent of taking 760,000 of today’s cars off the road. With climate change already contributing to drought, fire, and floods in Colorado, the need to act swiftly to curb carbon emissions is growing more urgent.

By generating roughly 10 percent of the state’s energy by 2030, solar electric and solar heating systems would also create economic benefits across Colorado.

Solar thermal energy (also known as solar hot water) is included in the campaign.

“Solar thermal systems address the biggest energy load in our state: space heating and hot water heating. The [campaign’s] comprehensive objective is a big step forward in our state’s new energy strategy,” said Laurent Meillon, Vice-President of Capitol Solar Energy, a local solar thermal business since 1982.


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