Fort Collins Residents Help City Reach Climate Targets While Saving on Electricity

Fort Collins community solar

Fort Collins resident Norman Illsley, 90, is making a statement. He purchased one 305-watt solar electric panel in the Riverside Community Solar Array, the first roofless solar project serving Fort Collins Utilities’ customers. “I’m making a statement of saving energy,” Illsley said.

Over the 25-year lifespan of the facility, Illsley’s solar panel is expected to save him an estimated $1,155 and generate more than 11,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of clean energy—equal to carbon absorbing power of 32 trees. Although he won’t be around long enough to experience the full benefits, “I’m sure glad to see the start of it,” Illsley said.

He joined about 50 other local residents, including the mayor and representatives from both Fort Collins Utilities and solar developer Clean Energy Collective (CEC), on July 23 for the grand opening of the Riverside Community Solar Array.

“I’m so excited I can barely even stand still. This has been a vision for quite some time in our great city,” said Kevin Gertig, executive director of Fort Collins Utilities. “The Riverside Community Solar Array provides a new option for all residents in our community… as well as a positive opportunity in leading by example—not only in our region but in the entire nation. And I’m so proud to be a part of that.”

The 2,035-panel solar array will also serve as a Gateway to Fort Collins, repurposing the former Dreher Pickle Plant where redwood barrels cured 5,000 tons of pickles from the 1920s to the 1980s. Those barrels contained brine, which leached into the soil over the years, causing environmental contamination. “The urban challenge around America is to take a site like this and to do something positive,” Gertig said. “We’re doing that today.”

Fort Collins Utilities and CEC will continue to monitor the former pickle plant site. “We’ve also done an extensive review of the soils, and we’ll continue to be environmentally-responsible to ascertain any movement,” Gertig said.

Nationally recognized for its sustainability leadership, Fort Collins Utilities serves about 155,000 residents with 68,000 electric meters. The power-purchase agreement (PPA) between the municipal utility and CEC included the option to expand the originally-planned 333 kW project if consumer demand was great enough. It was.

“The [initial] project was sold out before construction even began—we had to double the size of its original plan,” Mayor Wade Troxell said, standing before the 620 kW facility at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Mulberry Street. “We hope this project shows that buying locally-produced solar power can be a reality for more residents, and even those living in rental properties.”

Renters, townhome owners subject to HOA restrictions, homeowners with shaded rooftops and anyone who doesn’t want to invest tens of thousands of dollars in an on-site solar system are ideal candidates for community solar.

Scott Denning lives in a shaded home, so installing solar panels on his rooftop was not an option. Although he was quoted for 10 photovoltaic (PV) panels, based on his household energy usage, Denning purchased 20, citing the appeal of the 30% investment tax credit (ITC) that is set to expire at the end of 2016. A climate change scientist at Colorado State University, Denning said he has to “walk the walk.”

The City of Fort Collins, too, is acting on its climate targets. In fact, city council in March voluntarily adopted revisions to its Climate Action Plan, aiming to reduce the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2030 across all sectors, relative to its 2005 levels.

“It’s a great day in Fort Collins, and one of the best places to live, work, play and to generate solar power. And the launch of this innovative, local, clean power energy source ties into our overall clean energy goals as we move forward with our Climate Action Plan,” Troxell said. “We hope this leads to other opportunities for community solar throughout our city.”