Coalition pushes million solar roof goal

Western Colorado businesses have joined in a diverse coalition supporting efforts to substantially increase solar energy production in the state.

As of Nov. 25, a total of nearly 300 businesses, civic and environmental groups, farms, government officials and ranches had endorsed a campaign to increase solar energy capacity in Colorado to 3 gigawatts by 2030 — roughly the equivalent of installing solar systems on 1 million roofs.

Atlasta Solar and High Noon Solar in Grand Junction are among the members of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA) that have endorsed the effort. So has Real Goods Solar, a company based in Louisville that operates a regional office in Grand Junction.

More than 11,000 individuals also have called on Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and other state leaders to establish the million solar roofs goal.

“There’s strong public support for expanding solar in Colorado,” said Margaret McCall, an energy associate with Environment Colorado, an environmental group. “We’ve made great strides on solar in Colorado. And the progress we’ve made to date should give us confidence that we can take it to the next level.”

COSEIA, Environment Colorado and other organizations launched the million solar roofs campaign earlier this year to increase renewable energy production, curb emissions believed to cause global warming and bolster the economy.

Increasing solar energy capacity to 3 gigawatts would represent a 10-fold increase in current capacity. But a combination of sunny weather and the right policies offers the potential to achieve that goal, according to a report prepared by the Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center in Denver.

According to the report, Colorado enjoys better solar resources in terms of duration and intensity of sunlight than other states with more installed solar capacity, including California. In Grand Junction, a 1-kilowatt solar energy system captures enough sunlight to generate more than 1,500 kilowatt hours of electricity over the course of a year.

Empty roofs on businesses, homes and other buildings offer space for additional photovoltaic and water heating systems. According to the report, using every available and appropriate roof would create a combined 16 gigawatts of solar capacity.

Given 18 percent annual growth in the market and the installation of solar systems on a more modest 19 percent of available roofs would increase photovoltaic capacity to 3 gigawatts — enough electricity to power nearly 490,000 homes.

That level of solar energy production would displace 3.6 million metric tons of emissions a year — the equivalent to taking 760,000 cars off the road.

Increased solar energy capacity also would bolster the economy, said Piper Foster, president of the COSEIA board of directors. Realizing that goal would produce $3.85 billion in economic output and create almost 32,500 full-time jobs, she said. Foster herself works as vice president of marketing and sales for Amatis Controls, an Aspen-based company that manufactures monitoring and control equipment for solar systems.

Jason Wiener, co-owner and general counsel for Namaste Solar based in Boulder, said increased solar energy offers many benefits. “We are all looking to manage and control our energy costs, to identify and opt for cleaner energy sources when possible and to harness for our family, our home and our business the immense energy that comes from the sun.”

The Environment Colorado report suggests eight key policies that would promote increased solar energy production, key among them expanded net metering that requires utilities and other power providers to purchase electricity generated by solar systems at retail rates. Businesses and homes with solar systems that generate more electricity than they use earn credits for power they sell back to the grid.

Doug Odell, founder of Odell Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, said net metering broadens the sources of electricity on the grid. “If you use all the power you generate, you reduce the demand on traditional power sources. If you don’t, you feed the power into the grid for others to use. This sounds like a win-win to me.”