Solar array back on track, for now 

Call it a blessing in delay.

Five months after the disintegration of Colorado Springs Utilities' plan to install a new 10-megawatt solar array adjacent to Fountain's Ray Nixon Power Plant, the plan has been resurrected — and this time might feature better pricing, says general manager John Romero.

The idea at Clear Spring Ranch was, and remains, to add more renewable energy to Utilities' portfolio ahead of 2020, the deadline Utilities has set to generate at least 20 percent of its energy production from "green" sources. That's double the current state and federal requirements of 10 percent.

Following a standard RFP process and naming of a vendor to install the array, Utilities' plans fell apart (see "Not so fast there, sunny," SimpliCity, News, Jan. 7) when all parties involved realized that a critical deadline would not be met before the June 30 expiration of the Colorado Renewable Energy Standard. That standard attaches a three-times multiplier for each megawatt generated, meaning more renewable energy certificates (RECs) would count toward our portfolio goals.

At the time, officials did say the plan wasn't "completely dead," and mentioned hopes for an extension of the multiplier program at the legislative level. Which is indeed what happened when Senate Bill 15-254, co-sponsored by local Rep. Pete Lee, was introduced in late March, then sailed through the Senate and House. Gov. John Hickenlooper added his signature to the bill on May 29.

New language mandates that a contract must be underway by Aug. 1, 2015, with electricity production beginning no later than December 31, 2016, to qualify for the three-times multiplier. So now Utilities is back into the RFP process with six solar developers, Romero says. And he notes that while previous bids had come in around $60 to $70 per megawatt hour, just five months later, the marketplace is down to between $55 and $65.

With Utilities and Council officials having prematurely celebrated last go-round, Romero cautions that "it's not a done deal" until the Utilities Board, i.e., City Council, approves the new contract at its July board meeting. But assuming all goes well, he says Utilities anticipates developing future contracts to allow commercial customers — and possibly residential ones — to buy into a portion of the Clear Spring Ranch generation, though no RECs would come with the purchase. Otherwise, the cost of energy transmission will be shared among all customers as part of the whole portfolio.

Ten megawatts is enough to power roughly 3,400 homes for a year.


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