La Plata Electric Association board members Wednesday approved a community solar garden program to increase development of renewable energy and allow small users to own part of a power-generating facility.
A community solar garden, or CSG, broadens participation in power generation by bringing into the game people who can’t install a rooftop solar array for financial, space or home-orientation reasons.
A CSG also allows renters, low-income families, communal living groups, nonprofits and subdivisions to join in producing green energy.
Three board members worked for months with LPEA engineers and financial staff to develop the program. After 90 minutes of discussion, amendments and motion changes, the vote was 9-2.
Heartwood, a 24-unit communal living arrangement near Bayfield, and Twin Buttes, a subdivision with a potential of up to 600 units west of Durango, are the most-mentioned creators of a CSG.
Proposals to develop a community solar garden must be received at LPEA by the end of the year for implementation in 2014. Total electrical production for the coming year would be capped at 2 megawatts, enough power for 365 homes.
LPEA is limited by its power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, to produce no more than 5 percent of its electricity from alternative sources – mainly solar with a little hydro.
The cooperative currently produces about 4 percent of its energy from green sources.
Community solar gardens could help users offset the cost of electricity by selling power to LPEA, which in turn would sell it to Tri-State.
LPEA and Cortez-based Empire Electric, another member of the electric cooperative, recently filed a complaint with the state Public Utilities Commission charging that Tri-State wholesale rates discriminate against them, particularly in efforts to save electricity and shift use to off-peak time.
Under the new program, a minimum of 10 members would be required to establish a solar garden program.
But even with the full 2 megawatts of solar production, rate payers would be assessed $7.27 per meter at year’s end to cover increasing costs to LPEA, board members learned.
Dr. Richard Grossman, a Heartwood resident, was pleased with the LPEA board vote.
“We’ve been interested for more than five years in establishing a solar-energy cooperative,” Grossman said. “The cost of solar is coming close to affordability.”
Five of the 24 homes in Heartwood currently have some aspect of solar use, Grossman said. Some of the units can’t accommodate rooftop solar arrays, so a common facility would be necessary.
The community solar program requirements presented to the board Wednesday was draft No. 9 and filled six pages.