Co-op Solar Spring Break 2017

Grand Valley Power in Grand Junction, GRID Alternatives and the Colorado Energy Office announced the development of the third phase of a low-income solar project at Grand Valley Power’s Community Solar Array.

Through a partnership between GVP and GRID, the first phase of this 29 kW solar array was installed in 2015, which was the first of its kind in the nation. A second array was installed in late 2015. GVP’s Chief Executive Officer Tom Walch stated at the time, “In the grand scheme of things, a 29-kilowatt solar array serving six to 10 families is a small project. But I like to think that this is a big idea — one that can be replicated at utilities across the state and across the nation.”

GRID received a $1.2 million CEO grant in August 2015 to partner with utilities to implement low-income community solar as part of a statewide initiative. Since GVP’s first installation with GRID, five other Colorado rural electric cooperatives and one municipal utility have partnered with GRID and CEO to pilot a slight variation on the low-income community solar model developed by GVP. Development of the third phase of GVP’s Community Solar Array will mark the seventh such project built as part of the initiative. At the end of the two-year grant period, more than 1 megawatt of solar generation directly benefiting more than 300 Colorado families will be installed.

What separates this phase of the GVP Community Solar project from previous phases is this year, students from Beloit College in Wisconsin spent their spring break installing the solar array. Beloit College is one of three schools involved in GRID’s Campus Chapter pilot program, Solar Spring Break. The students spent March 6-8 learning about solar system design and solar policy. From March 9-10, the group installed a ground-mounted community solar system at the GVP site. This was an opportunity for students to experience hands-on solar industry workforce training with GRID, America’s largest non-profit solar installer.

With this completed phase, the partnership between GVP and GRID installed enough solar to benefit at least 35 Grand Valley Power members who need it the most over the next 20 years.

Penitente Solar: Lighting the Way in the San Luis Valley

Over the past decade, solar energy manufacturers and developers have made significant strides in the quality and affordability of this electric generation resource. The per-kilowatt-hour price from solar generators in the past five years has dropped almost 30 percent making this renewable resource competitive with traditional generation.

For the past four years, San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative has been investigating the installation of a 2.75 AC megawatt solar project. Its top priority is ensuring that the project is cost effective. Last summer, San Luis Valley REC negotiated a power purchase agreement with RES-Americas. RES-Americas provided attractive pricing that will provide modest power supply cost reductions.

The project has been named Penitente Solar and will be located in the southwestern part of Saguache County. San Luis Valley REC purchased the 25 acres of land on which the project will be constructed and all the agreements necessary to build this project have been executed. Construction is scheduled to begin in early spring and should be complete by midsummer.

Innovation Rampant in Co-op Territories

Want to know what Colorado electric co-ops are doing to bring more renewable energy online for member-owners? Find out by viewing the Colorado Rural Electric Association’s video on energy and innovation.

Titled “Innovations. Power. Community: Colorado’s Electric Cooperatives,” the video, which premiered at CREA’s annual Energy Innovations Summit, includes information on co-op solar gardens, a biomass plant, small hydro facilities, a methane capture project, a landfill gas plant and other renewable options.

View is at to view the video.

Going Green in Northern Colorado is Cost Effective

Member-owners of Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association who want to go green but can’t build a wind turbine in their backyard or don’t have enough sun exposure to buy solar panels can opt to participate in the electric cooperative’s Green Power Program.

The Green Power Program is a way for members to support the use of renewable energy resources with the help of PVREA. The Green Power Program is a subscription to buy renewable energy credits (RECs) on a monthly basis.

RECs are proofs of purchase from electricity generated by renewable energy resources. Through the Green Power Program, subscriptions buy RECs from wind or solar facilities. The program is a great way for members to help expand an existing renewable energy footprint.

Members can opt in to invest in green power in 100-kilowatt-hour blocks for 9 cents per block. For the average residential consumer that uses around 1,000 kWh a month, going 100 percent green costs less than $1 a month. PVREA has been providing this green power option to its members since 1999.

Community Solar Provides a Lasting Impact

One partnership plus 70 community solar panels adds up to average annual savings of $485 on electric bills for seven local families in Empire Electric Association’s territory. These qualified subscribers are receiving savings from EEA and GRID Alternatives Colorado because of a new solar garden as it brings the benefits of solar to the families who need it most — those who spend more than 4 percent of their income on utility bills.

Last year, EEA collaborated with GRID Alternatives and the Colorado Energy Office to build a solar garden solely dedicated to income-qualified subscribers. The partnership between GRID and CEO was formed to achieve two objectives: to lessen the energy burden for the most financially-strapped households and to assist electric utilities in achieving their renewable energy goals. The groundbreaking in Cortez marked the first of many historical projects around Colorado.

The solar garden will provide an estimated 36,749 kilowatt-hours annually and is located at Empire’s main office in Cortez. It is easily viewable by members being served by or interested in photovoltaic systems.

“As a member-owned cooperative, Empire is concerned about the best interests of our members,” EEA General Manager Josh Dellinger said. “We see this low-income community solar project as an opportunity to positively impact the communities we serve. Empire is providing a hand up rather than a handout to the subscribers — everyone benefitting contributed through sweat equity and will continue to contribute financially through a monthly energy payment.”

Qualified families agree to lease their allotted panels from EEA for five years. They are billed monthly for grid connectivity, demand charges and energy consumption while receiving a bill credit for the production of their panels. Subscribers of the solar garden can live more affordably in their homes as part of this hand up opportunity.

GRID initiated a barn-raising model for assembling the 70 solar panels and engaged members of the community to come together to install the system. It was accomplished with the help of 30 volunteers, which included trainees, EEA staff and other community members.

Eleven of the volunteers helping to install the solar array attended Navajo Technical University in New Mexico and were taking courses on photovoltaic system design and installation. They travelled 150 miles to access the invaluable field experience offered by this project.

“This is a big hands-on project for me,” said Clifford Allen, an NTU student. “In school we usually work on one or two panels, but this time we worked on 70 panels. It is definitely a good experience to actually work from the start to finish.”

Another volunteer working on behalf of her mother, an applicant subscriber, said, “I have learned so much. I think any program like this would be good for anyone, not just my mom. It helps offset some of the expenses that can be taken on when you’re older or low income, and any little bit helps.”

The project’s size allows for easy operation and maintenance. The system hosts a web-based monitoring portal that provides real-time monitoring. This information helps EEA’s staff better understand photovoltaic system performance, operation and maintenance at a location that is convenient and on a scale that is manageable.

The lasting impacts of the EEA and GRID Alternatives Solar Garden project include energy production valued at $147,545, the equivalent of 15,859 trees being planted, and 100 percent assistance for deserving families. For those directly involved, the lasting impacts include a clearer knowledge of how a photovoltaic system is assembled and how it is bringing the benefits of solar to the families who need it most.

Empire Electric is one of six electric co-ops in Colorado with a solar garden dedicated to assisting income-qualified members.

Co-op’s Landfill “Brownfield” Transforming to Solar “Greenfield”

San Miguel Power Association, GRID Alternatives Colorado and the Colorado Energy Office recently announced the development of a community solar array that will lower the electric bills of qualified low-income residents in SMPA’s service territory. The project is not only part of a statewide initiative to reduce energy costs for utilities’ highest need customers, it is also an effort to turn a limited-use site into a clean energy generator.

With an unwavering vision to reclaim a local landfill, San Miguel County worked with its partners in project development to turn a “brownfield” into a “greenfield” and harness renewable energy that will help the local community for decades to come. Project supporters also include Energy Outreach Colorado, the Telluride Foundation and EcoAction Partners.

According to SMPA Chief Executive Officer Brad Zaporski, the rural electric cooperative has been looking to increase its local renewable energy generation portfolio in a way that makes the resource available to a larger portion of its members and keeps utility bills affordable. Turning an old landfill into a site of local clean renewable energy generation adds an additional layer of benefit to the community and the environment.

“SMPA has long been a leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy,” said SMPA Board President Rube Felicelli. “We are now making home efficiency upgrades and local renewable energy readily available to our lower income members through SMPA’s ‘IQ’ or ‘income-qualified’ Weatherization and Solar Programs. We are excited to join with our partners to reduce our carbon footprint while also reducing the financial burden of high electrical bills on local families in need.”

“When we see projects like this, we are filled with optimism,” said Sandy Stavnes, acting assistant regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. “With this project, community partners came together to turn property that had limited reuse potential into something that will provide energy to community members in need as well as significant environmental benefits. A bonus is the solar panels on top of the landfill will assure the landfill cover is maintained.”

This is the sixth low-income community solar demonstration project developed in partnership with local utilities through a $1.2 million grant GRID Alternatives received from CEO in August 2015. Each project is piloting a slight variation on the low-income community solar model to address the unique needs of rural utility service areas and their customers. The projects selected are both affordable and scalable for utility partners and offer great potential to expand across the state.

“This project, with its multiple bottom lines — energy cost saving for families, renewable energy, brownfield reclamation, and local solar job training — is a win for the whole community and a model for the state and the nation,” said Chuck Watkins, executive director of GRID Alternatives Colorado.

Colorado Energy Office Director Jeff Ackermann said, “This demonstration project with GRID and SMPA reinforces our low cost approach to community solar, which blends the delivery of clean-generated electricity and assisting our neighbors in need.”

Electric Cooperative and Duke Energy Share Solar Project

Intermountain Rural Electric Association, headquartered in Sedalia, recently signed a 25-year agreement with Duke Energy Renewables to buy the electricity generated on a 13-megawatt solar site, dubbed the Victory Solar Power Project. Duke Energy acquired the site from developer juwi Inc. The Victory Solar Power Project will power approximately 2,600 homes with solar electricity and recently began operating.

“Victory is our first solar project in Colorado, where we already have an operating wind energy site,” said Rob Caldwell, president of Duke Energy Renewables and Distributed Energy Technology. “It’s the 50th solar project in our growing U.S. renewables footprint, and juwi’s high-quality site marks another milestone in expanding our solar presence in the western part of the country.”

“IREA is pleased to have worked with juwi to bring this facility into production ahead of schedule,” said IREA Chief Executive Officer Patrick Mooney. “We look forward to Duke Energy providing clean renewable energy to IREA’s customers for years to come.”

Could Allam Cycle Be a Cleaner Solution for Colorado’s Electric Co-op Coal Plants?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan raised more questions than answers since the rule’s finalization in August 2015.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, a not-for-profit generation and transmission cooperative that provides supplemental power to rural electric cooperatives in nine states, including Colorado, has an energy portfolio that includes coal, gas, oil, nuclear, distributed and renewable energy. With nationwide focus shifting toward renewable energy, Basin Electric’s leadership understands the cooperative must evolve to continue growing in a carbon-constrained world. One technology that is flashing economical carbon-reduction potential is the Allam Cycle.

The vision for the Allam Cycle consists of gasifying lignite coal to produce synthetic natural gas, which would then be used along with oxygen and carbon dioxide to drive a turbine generator.

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-1-51-41-pm-copyThis working fluid is then cooled through a heat exchanger and water is separated from it to create a nearly-pure CO2 stream. The CO2 stream is pressurized and a majority of the flow is fed back to the combustor as the working fluid to begin the cycle again. The remaining part of the CO2 flow is collected and put into a pipeline without increasing the power plant’s cost of producing electricity.

The technology could provide Dakota Gasification Company another source of marketable CO2 to be used for enhanced oil recovery or other purposes, and provide Basin Electric a more efficient and CO2 emission-free way of generating electricity using lignite coal.

Jim Sheldon, Basin Electric senior research and design engineer, heads the cooperative’s Horizons Committee. The group is responsible for monitoring and disseminating information regarding major environmental issues and new technologies — one being the Allam Cycle.

“This cycle uses CO2 as the working fluid instead of water, which we currently use in our coal plants. The first advantage is the dramatic efficiency gain using CO2 since it stays in the vapor phase instead of changing from liquid to vapor and back,” Sheldon says.

“Secondly, the combustion products in this cycle can be sent directly to a turbine to generate electricity.”

To research further development of Allam Cycle technology and its use with lignite coal, Basin Electric; the Energy & Environmental Research Center; 8 Rivers and ALLETE, Inc., along with ALLETE subsidiaries BNI Coal and Minnesota Power, were granted $1.48 million toward the total $3.18 million one-year research project.

Basin Electric and ALLETE also committed to contributing matching funds and in-kind services supporting the work.

A first-of-a-kind plant using natural gas will start up in Texas in 2017, along with a more in-depth study using lignite to make synthetic natural gas in North Dakota. Basin Electric will monitor the technology’s development and participate in the North Dakota study.

“If the first-of-a-kind plants prove out the initial work, this technology could be an economical means of using coal in a CO2- and emissions-constrained future,” Sheldon says.

Community Solar Coming for West Slope Co-op

Delta-Montrose Electric Association, which serves Delta, Montrose and Gunnison counties, partnered with GRID Alternatives to develop a 150-kilowatt community solar array, specifically for members qualified as low-income. Once the project is complete, participants can take advantage of locally-produced solar power and experience long-term energy savings. Other benefits include energy efficiency and basic solar education, full support and paperwork assistance, and no maintenance or installation requirements for participants. On average, participants will save up to 50 percent on their bill.

Electric Co-op’s Solar Garden Creates a “Better Solution”

A crowd of employees, partners and members recently gathered for the Yampa Valley Electric Association Community Solar Farm Raising. The 145-kilowatt solar garden, made up of 558 panels, was made possible through the combined efforts of GRID Alternatives Colorado, the Colorado Energy Office and Yampa Valley Electric Association, with offices in Craig and Steamboat Springs. The three partners brought their unique resources together to create a solar garden that will provide renewable energy at a reduced cost to approximately 35 income-challenged YVEA households.

In this case, the output from the array goes to offset the electric consumption of YVEA members who are struggling financially. Those who benefit met specific qualifications and made a commitment to support the project by helping with installation or participating in some way.

After months of planning, construction and site work began August 2016. Rogue Enterprises prepared the site and contributed to reduce costs while teams from YVEA and GRID went to work on member outreach, sending letters to previously weatherized members in its territory and hosting two educational/qualifying workshops. Other teams reached out to potential corporate sponsors and volunteers.

The onsite work continued with racking and fencing and volunteers installing all components of the garden. September 9-11, GRID and YVEA hosted 45 members of the Women in Solar effort for a weekend of camping, networking, workforce development and long hours spent volunteering at the worksite.

It all came together on September 16 when YVEA employees spent the day lifting the final panels into place and installing the last of the micro-converters. YVEA hosted more than 100 people for a celebration luncheon including representatives from GRID and the Colorado Energy Office, Rep. Diane Mitch Busch, Greg Winkler, the regional manager for DOLA, along with members whose energy costs will be reduced.

“This solar project is a demonstration of what can be achieved when we believe answers to problems exist,” said YVEA President and General Manager Diane Johnson. “This project brought together people from all over the country who believed in a better solution: A solution that trains more skilled workers in the solar field. A solution that gives YVEA the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with solar by owning and maintaining a solar array, recognizing that the future holds diverse fuel choices and that it is our responsibility to understand and embrace various technologies on behalf of our members. And, a solution that helps to bridge what is sometimes a divide between solar advocates and electric utilities. Many “right” answers exist for the future of energy and we expect to embrace varied and innovative fuel choices, together.”