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.”