HRCA saves money on rec centers with solar garden

Utility bills will be credited for alternative power usage

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The Highlands Ranch Community Association will save an estimated $1.9 million dollars over the next 20 years through a community solar garden.

The community solar garden is made possible by Colorado’s Community Solar Legislation, enacted in 2010, that allows independent companies to provide solar energy through solar gardens — acres of commercial-grade solar panels — to residents, businesses and nonprofit organizations.

One of those companies is SunShare, which works with Xcel Energy and its Solar Rewards Community program. Residential and business customers, such as the HRCA, may subscribe to a solar garden and receive credit for the solar energy produced.

Customers still buy and use energy from Xcel Energy, but they will receive payment for their portion of the garden’s solar energy produced as a credit on their bill, Xcel Energy’s website says.

The HRCA is in the final stages of subscribing to solar gardens located in Arapahoe and Douglas counties. The HRCA, which manages four recreation centers in Highlands Ranch, sees the program as a means to reduce energy usage and cost and promote local environmental sustainability, said Ken Joseph, operations and program director of the HRCA.

“It’s like putting solar panels on a house in the way that it is connected, however it is more flexible in that you can move and take the credits with you,” Joseph said.

Other solar gardens in the Denver metro area are located in Adams, Denver and Jefferson counties. Users do not have to pay capital upfront costs and only pay for the electricity generated. The developer, which differs among gardens, manages the construction, maintenance, monitoring, and ongoing management of the solar garden, according to Joseph.

HRCA will subscribe to solar gardens that SunShare, a community solar company that has served Colorado since 2011, will develop. SunShare works with Xcel Energy and Colorado Springs Utilities to bring solar gardens to communities across the Front Range, according to a media release.

“By building community solar gardens in nearby fields rather than installing panels on rooftops, we make solar energy accessible and affordable to anyone interested in effortlessly helping to preserve our planet,” the release says.

According to Joseph, the environmental impact of the solar garden project equates to eliminating 2.4 million miles of driving or 2.8 million trees being planted.

“It’s acres of commercial-grade solar,” Joseph said. “They are set up mechanically so they shift positions with the sun to soak up as much energy as possible.”

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