Farming out solar power: Co-op leases production to members

As the sun shines intensely through a clear summer sky, Derek Elder walks behind a long row of photovoltaic solar panels to a check a digital readout monitoring how well the panels convert all that sunshine into electricity.

Over the course of the next year, Elder expects the 88 panels to generate a total of nearly 21 kilowatts — enough power to meet the average annual needs of four homes.

That amount is just a small fraction of the electricity Grand Valley Power (GVP) delivers to 17,000 meters in Western Colorado. Nonetheless, the panels represent an important first step in meeting increasing demand for electricity produced from such renewable sources as solar and wind power, says Elder, energy services administrator for the electric cooperative.

The panels are the first to be installed at a solar farm GVP has opened near its Highline Substation at 29 Road and Interstate Highway 70 in Grand Junction.

GVP marked the opening of the solar farm and the completion of a new headquarters building as part of a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Aug. 12, 1936 founding of the co-operative, the first in Colorado.

The solar farm is the first facility that generates power for GVP, which buys electricity from utilities and distributes it to its members in the Grand Valley as well as in the rural communities of Collbran, Gateway and Mesa.

The solar farm also is unique, Elder says, in that GVP leases shares of the power produced there to members. For

one-time payments of $950, members receive one of 88 shares of power — in essence, one solar panel — for 25 years. They’ll receive a monthly credit of $3.60 on their bills, meaning they’ll recoup their investments over 22 years.

Elder says the solar farm offers an option to members who whose homes aren’t properly sited for solar installations or want to purchase solar power, but not on the scale of a large home installation. The lease arrangement offers a number of other benefits in that members don’t have to purchase the insurance required for a home solar installation and GVP maintains the panels, he adds.

Once leases have covered the cost of the first row of solar panels, GVP will install a second row at the solar farm, Elder says. There’s room at the farm for four rows of panels that will generate a total of about 130 kilowatts. There’s also room near other GVP substations for additional solar farms, he says.

The new solar farm is part of an effort to respond to increasing demand for renewable energy, Elder says. GVP also offers members the option to purchase blocks of electricity generated by wind farms in Eastern Colorado. The solar power, though, is produced locally, he adds. “You can drive by and see where it’s coming from.”