The first collective solar energy project to be built under a La Plata Electric Association policy approved last year should be delivering power by Oct. 1.
John Shaw, who installed the first solar panels in the LPEA service area 13 years ago, is building the area’s first solar garden in Ignacio.
A community solar garden allows investment in solar energy by LPEA customers who are renters, who can’t afford the investment alone or whose house isn’t oriented to receive sufficient sun.
Shaw, the principal in Durango-based Shaw Solar, is one of six investors in Solar Garden Partners, which is developing the $650,000 project in Ignacio.
Twenty-one subscribers – all must be LPEA customers – are leasing a share in the 680 solar panels that will produce 200 kilowatts of electricity. There are still panels available, Shaw said.
The idea is that each subscriber will cover the cost of his/her monthly electric bill. Initially, the monthly payment will be slightly more than what the suscriber pays LPEA, but in 10 years, the balance will swing the other way.
Over 20 years, subscribers will save 30 percent of what they would pay LPEA ordinarily, Shaw said. The calculation is based on the assumption that LPEA rates will rise at the same rate as they have during the past 20 years, he said.
Steve and Deb Ruddell liked the deal. They are living in a 13-unit housing complex that doesn’t accommodate individual tastes.
“We’re at an age that we’re not going anywhere,” Steve Ruddell said Tuesday. “This is our final stop so the investment is worth it.”
Ruddell said the couple over 20 years will pay an estimated $13,500 less for power than what their LPEA bill would be. They burn about 6,000 kilowatts a year.
Shaw also is preparing to build a 52-kW solar garden on the roof of the Boys and Girls Club of Durango. He is going to donate 2.5 kilowatts of that array to the club.
An equal amount of the Ignacio project will be donated to the Women’s Resource Center, giving it a reduction on its electric bills, Shaw said.
Nine panels on the current project will produce 2.5 kilowatts, Shaw said.
“We’re just starting to unroll the idea of donors buying a solar panel to give to a nonprofit,” Shaw said. “In the Ignacio project, a donor would pay $1,000 for a panel, but after tax credits, the cost would be $495.”
LPEA spokeswoman Indiana Reed said the cooperative’s policy No. 366, a long time in the works but finally approved late last year, authorizes community solar gardens.
Six projects have won approval, Reed said. They must be producing electricity by the end of the year.
It appears that one project won’t go forward, but the others are on track, Reed said. Shaw and another developer each have two, she said.
LPEA leaders would like to produce more electricity from solar. But the contract with the wholesale supplier limits local generation to 5 percent.