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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Did You Know? You Don’t Need a Suitable Roof to Benefit From Solar Power

[Published Dec. 18, 2014, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section. An abbreviated version also appeared in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers.]

When Rita and I bought our current home, one of our considerations was that we have a suitable roof for installing a solar photovoltaic system so that we could reduce our monthly electric bill to what the utility charges to be connected to their electric grid — about $8 per month.

Thanks, however, to the “Community Solar Gardens Act” signed into law on June 5, 2010, we could have bought (or rented) any home at all and still installed that 10-kW system — as part of a much larger array in a field far from our house.

Now, 4½ years after that law was signed by Governor Ritter, hundreds or maybe thousands of homeowners, renters, and organizations across the state have done exactly that, and are now enjoying the same freedom from large electric bills that Rita and I enjoy.

Do a web search for “community solar gardens” and you’ll see that there are many entities, both for-profit and non-profit, in the solar garden business.  Clean Energy Collective is one I’m most familiar with, since they built a 2,422-panel array on open land just north of Golden. Learn how you can participate in their program at

Their website explains the concept well: “Community solar arrays, sometimes referred to as a solar farm or solar garden, are centralized photovoltaic (PV) power facilities that deliver reliable, commercial-scale renewable energy to an electric utility's grid. The utility's customers, including residences, businesses, and tax-exempt entities, can own or lease solar panels in the array without having to install panels on their own rooftop or property.”

In effect, anyone with an electric bill can own or lease solar panels and have the panels’ production directly reduce their electric bill. Also, as a participant in a solar garden, you can easily add additional solar panels at any time. For example, when it comes time to replace your gas hot water heater or forced air furnace, you could choose electrically powered units and buy or lease additional panels to cover that added electrical load.

I know a home in Applewood, coming on the market soon, which terminated its gas service and became an all-electric house — powered by the sun. For cooking, they use induction cooktops which not only use less electricity than standard electric cooktops but are child-safe, heating only when non-aluminum metal pots are placed on each “burner.”

When your gasoline-powered automobile needs its next major repair, you could also purchase an electric car and buy or lease additional solar panels to cover that electrical load.

Even renters can buy into solar community arrays.  When they move, their solar garden investment moves with them, or they can sell it to another electric customer, or even donate it to a non-profit organization.

The more I think about the advantages a solar garden, the more I think that it is a good choice even for those with a “suitable roof.”  I’m thinking… no delay for building permits and installation, no HOA approval needed, no inverter to replace if it fails years from now, and easy expansion as my electrical needs increase. If I move, I wouldn’t have to install a new system.

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