The idea of "Solar Rent Your Roof" (now taking suggestions for a better name) sprang from the realization that Fort Collins' solar policy is Old and in the Way (no, not the Jerry Garcia band). Our solar policy hasn't been substantially changed since inception in 2008. If you buy solar for your roof, Fort Collins Utilities will give you a rebate and pay you for what your panels generate. This excludes large segments of our population from participating in the solar economy while at the same time charging everyone to pay for the benefits of those who can go solar. As more people get solar Fort Collins won't be able to afford the current high payment system. This system worked well for the "early adopter" stage of solar technology but now it is time for a new addition. The Fort Collins solar program Ain't Broke, But it's Badly Bent.
One day Hank and I were brainstorming how to expand solar in a socially equitable and economically responsible way. The obvious answer is for the utility to own the solar panels. The utility can get the best price and quality, and everyone pays equally and gets the same benefit. There a few large tracts where a utility solar array could be installed near Fort Collins: The landfill, the old and new airports, Rawhide power plant. We certainly want to use these areas but to go much bigger would require using land that has other value.
Fort Collins has already taken land out of agricultural production to put up solar panels (north of Vine, west of Taft). We don't want to do that, not when we have 2.5 sq. miles of available roof space in town, and that doesn't include parking lots. 2.5 sq miles is the size of six CSU campuses. So how do we utilize this space in an economically and socially responsible manner? The current program only works for owner occupied buildings so that rules out almost all of the commercial space and 40% of the residential space. Property owners also have to buy the solar panels. That puts up a financial barrier. And your solar ownership is currently limited to no more than 120% of your annual electric use. Those limitations shrink our potential 2.5 sq miles by 80%. We can remove all of those barriers if the utility simply rents roof space and installs their own panels.
With the Solar Rent Your Roof program anyone (with a good roof or parking lot for it) could rent their space to Fort Collins Utilities (FCU). The lease would have to be long-term, 25 years, and transferable to new owners. FCU would need roof access for cleaning and maintenance. That's about it for requirements. The amount of the rent check would depend on the square footage rented. The owners of a large warehouse or strip mall might make a pretty penny. The average rental home might bring in $20 a month. Alas, this is not an original idea, several utilities around the country are currently doing similar programs.
FCU would benefit by retaining control of electric generation and paying less than purchasing or leasing virgin land or paying solar owners for the electric that they generate. People would still be allowed to buy panels. The current program doesn't have to be replaced (but as is, it isn't sustainable in the long term). Employment is the local solar industry could skyrocket to meet demand. Contractors would bid on jobs much like they do now but would be dealing with FCU which would provide a greater level of quality control and simplify the contracting process. This can be a win for FCU, a win for property owners, a win for contractors, and a win for the overall community.
That's why we asked City Council to direct FCU to research making this happen in Fort Collins and that's why council agreed that this is a good idea. Now we don't want to be Hard Hearted, but we can't allow FCU to be the Great Pretender on solar policy (Garcia fans get it :-) We need to hold them accountable to delivering a quality product and that is why CforSE will continue monitor progress and hold toes to the fire when need be.