Solar on Schools

CforSE is researching how electric utilities could rent school roofs for solar. Preliminary numbers suggest that a school could get over $2,000 per month in rent and the utility could still break even on power sales! This is possible because solar power (even without tax subsidies) is cheaper than current wholesale power rates. By the way, this model works for any property owner, not just schools.


Utilities need to explore this idea and reach out to school districts with a proposal. Aside from providing low rates and philanthropies, utilities are not generally predisposed to think about how their business models can help the local community. Therefore we need to direct them as customers/members/constituents to get on board and move forward. In municipal utilities (Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Estes Park) we do this through City Council. For co-ops and Xcel we work through the board of directors and the state Public Utilities Commission.


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Modernize the Fort Collins Solar Subsidy program.  The current solar subsidy program was adopted from an Xcel Energy program in 2008 when the state required Fort Collins Utilities (FCU) to meet a minimum requirement. The idea of any new technology subsidy is to help early adopters make an investment that doesn't pay for itself. We do this because the technology is good for society and early adopters help to bring down the cost of the tech. In this case Fort Collins Utilities offered rebates that were designed to help solar pay for itself over the lifetime of the panels, to break even. It worked!  Now solar pays for itself in about half it's lifetime without the FCU rebates. Now solar can not only stand on its own, but is profitable.

So why is Fort Collins still giving people rebates for something that makes them money? Everyone in town pays into the fund that provides these rebates. If you don't have the $10k in upfront cash to buy panels - too bad, you still have to pay for someone else's rebates. If you rent - sorry, still gotta pay. Even if you don't have access to these rebates, you have to pay for them. At least when solar owners weren't making a profit off the rebates they helped everyone by bring down cost. Now it's just a bonus from the government. The good news that there is a better way to do it. Now that solar is cheap enough utilities can offer financing instead of rebates. This allows every income level to get into the solar market (no upfront cost) and reduces the amount of the subsidies. By only assisting with community accessible projects Fort Collins can further democratize the solar economy. Community accessible solar is a solar project that anyone can buy into. It doesn't go on your roof. You only need to be a FCU customer to participate. There is one of these projects on the corner of Riverside and Mulberry. Some communities allow "solar sharing" where one neighbor hosts the panels on his/her roof and multiple people can invest. This is the kind of creative thinking that we need in Fort Collins.

Redirect Fort Collins Utility (FCU) efficiency assistance dollars to lower income residents. 3% of your electric bill funds these assistance programs, mostly small rebates for expensive projects. Lower-income households can’t afford those projects so CforSE advocated for FCU to adopt a common affordable financing program. FCU started a financing program but marketed it through contractors to wealthy people. FCU now wants to outsource the program, raising the cost.

Lower-income folks tend to live in the least efficient houses. We can help those who need it and get more bang for our buck by fixing really inefficient houses instead of making OK houses a little better.


Bus service on Sunday is part of the 2009 Transfort Strategic Operating Plan. The senior citizen board, transit dependent and low-income groups, and climate action folks are asking the City to follow through on that plan this year. This isn’t cheap, $1.3 million for 2017 and 2018 service, but it helps to reduce pollution, traffic, road maintenance, increases street safety, and increases mobility for those who depend on it. Ultimately Transfort needs independent funding through a voter-approved Transportation District.


Remove the limit on residential solar. The current limit was set in 2010 to match Xcel Energy’s policy. Unlike Xcel, FCU is a non-profit so it makes financial sense to encourage home solar to avoid building a new power plant. It also makes sense for consumers. It is now cheaper to own solar than to buy electricity (over a 10-12 yr period). Buying solar supports local contractors instead buying gas and coal. A growing number of people want to reduce their coal and oil/gas consumption by using solar to charge electric cars and switching from natural gas heating to electric.

Residents should be able to own as much solar as local infrastructure can handle (there is a physical limit). FCU should remove the residential solar limit and pay solar owners the wholesale rate for any excess electricity they generate.

Contract with a Community Shared Solar Project.  Arcadia Power is one company that offers shares in solar farms. You buy a share of one of their solar arrays and your utility bill is credited for the power that your solar share generates. This is the easiest way for individuals to participate in the solar market and potentially the easiest and cheapest way for Fort Collins Utilities to meet their solar goals.


Home Energy Efficiency

CforSE is working to make efficiency affordable for everyone and accessible to homeowners and renters. Current programs around the state are rebate based and cover about 20% of the cost of a home energy efficiency remodel leaving thousands of dollars for the homeowner to cover. This cost is a major barrier for homeowners and renters alike. Midwest Energy, a co-op in Kansas, designed How$mart. How$mart finances efficiency remodels using the energy bill savings to pay for the remodel. There is no cost to the homeowner or tenant. We are working to bring this model here. The program would significantly cut carbon emissions, while also saving consumers millions of dollars on bills, and creating jobs locally in Colorado. 

UPDATE:  As of March 1st, 2015 homeowners in Fort Collins have access to the most cost effective efficiency financing program in the country! This will be available to renters in January 2016. This is a very exciting development and we encourage all homeowners in FTC to contact Fort Collins Utilities to see if this program works for you!

This financing program removes the cost barrier to efficiency remodels by using the energy savings generated to pay for the remodel. Now that you can get a remodel for free, we can start working on incentivizing property owners to go through the effort of getting it done. If you live in your home then you have incentive to improve comfort, lower bills, and save the Earth. But if you rent your home or business location, then you have to convince the landlord to go through the effort. To incentivize the effort we are proposing that a building's energy grade be published in any advertising for that building's sale or lease.

The advertising will include the following line:  "This building as an energy grade of '__'. A building with a grade of 'A' is as efficient as can be. A building with a grade of 'F' is extremely inefficient. Any building that has not had an audit will receive a grade of 'F'." 

This grading system allows renters or buyers to compare buildings and chose the more efficient building if they desire. The grading system gives prospective buyers/renters the power of choice. It rewards responsible property owners by providing market value for their improvements. And it incentivizes property owners to use the free efficiency remodel services that are available. Council members Gerry Horak, Wafe Troxell, Bob Overbeck, and Ross Cunniff have voiced support for the idea. Gerry took it to the executive of the Fort Collins Board of Realtors who showed interest in learning more.

You can help by emailing the City leaders and telling them why you support "Energy Grade Disclosure in Advertising". This is an easy step for the City to take to make a big difference.

To the members of Tri-State Co-ops

In May 2014, the permits were issued for Tri-state to build a 1400 MW coal fired electric plant - construction could start within as little as 18 months. The plant cost is estimated at $2.8 BILLION.  That's about $1400 per person and twice as much as currently operating community solar gardens. If you live in a Tri-State co-op territory and pay an electric bill then you have the privilege, right, and responsibility to determine energy policy for 1.5 million people from Nebraska to New Mexico. Take action by contacting Tri-State and telling them that you want them to drop the coal plant and to instead invest more in energy efficiency and renewable energy technology!

Email Tri-State and tell them to drop Holcomb and instead invest in efficiency and local renewables.

Update, 5/15: Tri-State says that they will not be building the plant but according to one board member they are still paying $5-6 million per year to keep the option open.


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Photography provided by Jared Chambers