Fort Collins’ Solar Policy is Old and in the Way
The current Fort Collins residential solar policy was adopted in 2008 to meet state renewable energy requirements. Back then solar cost more than twice what it costs now. Utilities were not pursuing solar in any real way and homeowners needed large rebates to be enticed to put solar on their roofs. It was an “early adopter” market, only hard-core fans were doing solar in Fort Collins.
The solar market has changed dramatically! Solar panels are now a profitable venture if you have good roof space and the capital to invest in solar. You will need about $10k - $14k to meet your household energy needs with solar, but solar adds to home value and over 25 years your panels will generate over twice what they cost.
This is good news, but Fort Collins is still spending ratepayer money on solar subsidies. Everyone pays for the subsidies but only homeowners with upfront cash and good roof space can get the subsidies. That is a regressive tax on ratepayers. It also limits our community’s solar potential to only those with investment cash.
Fortunately there is a better way. A few utilities around the country offer to rent space on their customers’ roofs to put up utility owned solar panels. The utility gets the power and you get a small check or discount on your electric bill. This is especially attractive to landlords and commercial spaces. We are asking Fort Collins to explore this option. Another option would be for Fort Collins Utilities to offer low cost financing for rooftop solar. Both of these options would expand solar access in town and eliminate the need for the subsidy. Fort Collins Utilities should also build their own “solar parks”. This makes sense in a lot of cases but we don’t want to cover valuable land with solar panels when we have so many roofs and parking lots that could be used instead.
Fort Collins needs to change the solar policy, but this isn’t going to be easy. It will require a lot of research, development, and execution from Fort Collins Utilities staff. Then there is the “inertia to change” factor, this is a government agency after all. Our City leaders and employees tend to be content with things the way they are until people start pushing for change.
That’s where the citizens come in! First we need to get the City to explore the possibilities. Next we need to prod them to go through the effort of change. After they make the change we have to hold them accountable to doing the job right. City council should be doing this, it is the job they are elected to do. That is why we are advocating for a strong city council. Until that happens it is up to the citizens to hold our City employees and leaders accountable. You can be a part of the solution by writing a quick note to Fort Collins City Council.