The desert southwest is one of the sunniest places in the United States, with many places getting upwards of 300 days of sunshine a year. While individual residents across New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona are trying to take advantage of the access to the sun by installing their own solar arrays, larger organizations and communities have taken notice, too.
One of the best aspects of community solar projects is the ability to pool resources together to provide solar energy to individuals who might not be able to afford it otherwise. Many community solar projects allow residents to access solar energy without having to install solar panels on their own rooftops. These co-ops can bring clean, renewable energy options to people who really want to be part of the movement, but can’t install their own solar panels for a variety of reasons.
New Mexico legislators have been trying to jumpstart community solar in New Mexico by introducing the Community Solar Act in 2019. Unfortunately, the bill was stalled indefinitely, but many are hailing the legislation as an important step to helping the state go solar.
Here are four community solar projects that are leading the way in the southwest.
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Colorado
Colorado is working diligently to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, with a set goal of 90 percent of energy in the state being produced by non-carbon sources by the year 2050. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in southwestern Colorado is doing their part by installing 3,500 solar panels on their reservation. The $2 million project was achieved through GRID Alternatives Colorado, a non-profit that helps low-income and underserved communities find ways to get solar energy. The solar installation will provide 10 percent of the reservation’s overall energy and reduce their carbon emissions by 1,515 lbs of CO2 per year.
Coyote Ridge Community Solar Farm, Ft. Collins, Colorado
Coyote Ridge Community Solar Farm is another GRID Alternatives Project, this time in partnership with Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association (REA). Located on the southwest side of Fort Collins, Colorado, the solar farm will devote 1.2 MW of solar power to low-income and affordable housing providers, as well as non-profits in the area, through a solar subscription service. It is the eighth installation in Colorado of its kind, part of an initiative to help spread the reach of solar energy and reduce the cost of energy for low-income households. The project is expected to save 30 percent on energy costs for individual subscribers.
U Community Solar, Salt Lake City, Utah
U Community Solar is an initiative of the University of Utah and is part of the university’s overall commitment to using renewable energy as an EPA Green Power Partner. Instead of building a solar farm that allows subscribers to use the energy produced by the photovoltaic panels, U Community Solar works to remove barriers that individuals may have in putting solar panels on their own roofs, including upfront costs and confusion over the sales process. The program offered community members a streamlined path to solar energy by providing discounted rates as well as a simplified installation process. Members of the program were able to access a pre-screened installer and were provided with support during the sales process. The first phase of the project ran in 2014 and was one of the largest discount solar campaigns in the U.S.
Mesquite Solar Project, Maricopa County, Arizona
As the largest project on this list, the Mesquite Solar Project in Maricopa County, Arizona is also the largest solar installation in North America. Located 40 miles west of Phoenix, the plant is built on a 4,000 acre plot of land. The entire plant was completed in three phases, started in 2011, led by SEMPRA Renewables (now owned by AEP Renewables). When the first phase was finished, it provided enough solar energy to power 56,000 homes in Arizona. Phases 2 and 3 were both completed in December 2016. The plant has a capacity of 400 MW currently, with the possibility of expanding to 700 MW. One interesting aspect of the project is the use of a new type of solar panel that does not require water in its creation process.
At SolExergy, we are committed to providing the best possible solar options for New Mexicans. If you have a community, residential, or commercial project in mind, get in touch to learn how we can help.