Crested Butte Community Solar Garden

Crested Butte community solar gardenGunnison County Electric Association (GCEA) and the Town of Crested Butte have a solar solution for co-op members. GCEA’s Community Solar Garden is a way for you to support and benefit from electricity generated by solar energy. Members are eligible to lease solar panels. Each panel is anticipated to produce approximately 1.3 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per day on average.

Background

GCEA’s power supply contract with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association is a typical all-requirements contract. However, a provision was added to the contract in 2001 that allows GCEA to self-supply up to 5% of its annual power requirements.

GCEA’s current franchise agreement with the Town of Crested Butte contains the following provision.

“The Town and GCEA have goals to study, evaluate and implement clean, sustainable, reliable electrical energy sources that are economically prudent and provide affordable alternatives to conventional electric generation methods. The Town and GCEA agree to cooperate as appropriate to develop plans that meet these objectives and the goals as outlined in the Town’s Energy Action Plan.”

History

In 2014, GCEA reached an agreement with the Town of Crested Butte for use of the roof at the Town’s wastewater treatment plant. The GCEA Board voted unanimously in favor of the project. The first 20 panels of 5 kilowatts (kW) were installed in July of that year. The panels were offered to members under a 20-year lease for $1,100, which equaled the cost per panel of the project construction. GCEA did not include the cost of insurance, property tax, or anticipated maintenance in the panel lease price. Over the next four years, only 13 of the panels were leased to members.

In 2018, GCEA and the Town agreed to expand the array to fill the available roof space. The GCEA Board voted unanimously in favor of the expansion. The expansion added 52 panels bringing the array to a total of 72 panels (20 kW). Owing to the economies of scale and other factors the price for a 20-year lease was reduced to $850. All long-term leases end on October 31, 2038, so members subscribing after November 2018 paid a reduced lease price corresponding to the remaining lease term. Members who subscribed to the original 13 panels were granted a no-cost four-year extension of their lease.

On October 1, 2019, with 48 panels still available, GCEA rolled out a month-to-month lease option at a monthly cost of $4.71. On October 22, the last panel was leased.

In November 2019, the GCEA Board unanimously approved the construction of up to 100 kW of community solar in 2020.

Current Status of the Project

The community solar garden is fully subscribed, but GCEA is taking names of interested members for a waiting list in anticipation of additional capacity in the near future. Twenty-four of the panels are held by members under long-term leases and 48 panels are claimed by members under month-to-month leases.

Next Steps

GCEA is looking for potential sites, either bare ground or compatible roof space. Our goal is to increase the capacity of community solar by 100 kW in 2020 utilizing one or more sites.