Our View: To invest in solar energy or not?
September 23, 2014
Last week, the Steamboat Today reported on the Routt County commissioners’ hesitation to invest in the community solar garden that is being constructed in Craig, and that response by the commission left us a little mystified.
It's perplexing that Routt County, which successfully operates one of the largest solar arrays in the region on the top of the Routt County Justice Center, is reluctant to buy into a similar project on a smaller scale knowing how much money it has saved by investing in solar.
According to County Facilities Director Tim Winter, the county paid $8 per watt for solar panels on the Justice Center seven years ago and has since recouped $60,000 in renewable energy credits and $24,000 in reduced energy bills. The pre-construction cost currently being quoted by Clean Energy Collective is as low as $2.75 per watt, so in simple terms, any investment the county makes in the solar garden will more than pay for itself and seems like a wise investment.
We appreciate the county's desire to conduct business transparently, but in this particular case, Clean Energy Collective is contracting with Yampa Valley Electric Association to build the solar garden, and the county is a third party to the agreement. We realize it may be a departure from the county's normal purchasing protocol where bids are sought before significant purchases are made, but in this case, we're not talking about a big capital outlay by the county.
Back in March, the Steamboat Springs City Council made a similar decision to the county's by opting out of buying into the community solar garden at that time. A motion made by council member Sonja Macys to buy into the array was not seconded and no vote was taken to pursue involvement in the project. Instead, the council left open its options to reconsider the proposal after its annual budget hearings in October.
In our opinion, the solar garden being built in Craig is a positive step toward meeting renewable energy requirements set out by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Colorado, and it falls in line with the county's goal of transitioning to "future energy strategies." It also would match the city's stated priority of being a leader in sustainability.
In this case, if the county and city choose not to participate in the project, there still is the opportunity for individuals to buy into the array and benefit from the economies of scale offered by a larger, shared project. The solar garden provides a way for home owners or renters to have access to solar energy without having to make the large upfront investment to erect rooftop systems on their own homes.
We encourage individuals to consider buying into the project, especially if they are seeking renewable energy alternatives but can't afford to go it alone. According to a Today article about the solar garden, consumers can get involved for as little as $825 for a single 300-watt panel, and the initial credit to purchasers of solar electricity will be 10 cents per kilowatt-hour compared to YVEA's current rate of about 7.8 cents per kwh. And if homeowners sell their homes, their solar panels will move with them within the YVEA district or they have the option to resell the panels if they move outside the district.
We view both the county commission's and the city council's hesitation to invest in the solar garden as a missed opportunity for our local government leaders to make a small but meaningful investment in a project that could pay bigger dividends for individual consumers, and we hope they'll reconsider. In our eyes, their involvement in the project is not only an investment in renewable energy but an endorsement. And with both entities listing sustainability as a priority, involvement in the solar garden seems to be a good way to demonstrate that commitment.