Fort Collins council to consider solar-farm land lease

FORT COLLINS – Fort Collins City Council is scheduled to decide at its meeting Tuesday night whether to approve a 25-year lease with Clean Energy Collective LLC for a new community solar array on city property.

The city council will decide whether to approve the lease, which has an option to extend the lease for as many as 10 additional years, for property at 500 Riverside Ave., the former site of the Dreher pickle plant. Residential and small-commercial utility customers will be able to buy solar panels to receive credits on their bills.

Clean Energy Collective, a Carbondale-based company with offices in Boulder and Broomfield, has built solar arrays throughout the state. Utility customers buy individual panels in the community solar gardens for a few hundred dollars apiece, and utilities then credit customers for electricity generated by the panels.

The approximately 600-kilowatt solar array will help the city meet the state renewable energy standard, which requires utilities to have 10 percent of their electricity generated from renewable sources by 2020. The project also allows customers without the means to build their own solar arrays to participate in solar-energy production.

The city will lease the property to Clean Energy Collective for $10 annually. Clean Energy Collective, for its part, will pay the cost of building the solar array.

Construction on the solar array and sales of individual panels will begin after the lease agreement is signed. Soil on the property is contaminated by salt because of the former pickling operations, but the city says solar array construction will minimally disturb the soil. The city also plans to monitor construction as well as follow up with evaluations of the site.

Utility solar customers receive a reduction in their bills for electricity generated beyond what customers consume through net-metering. Community solar-garden participants could see reduced reimbursement compared with rooftop solar-array owners under a separate ordinance considered by the council at its meeting Tuesday night.

Community solar-garden participants would receive about 2 cents less per kilowatt hour for net-metering than people who own rooftop solar arrays, according to Fort Collins Utilities. The proposed net-metering reimbursement rate for community solar-garden participants is about 7.1 cents per kilowatt hour. Customers with rooftop solar arrays receive an average of about 9.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

The lower reimbursement rate for community solar array panel owners is for distributions costs, according to the utility. That’s because rooftop solar panels feed energy directly into a customer’s home for use, with minimal use of the electric distribution system. By contrast, solar garden customers use the distribution system to pull energy from the remote garden location to their homes.

City council members will decide Tuesday night whether to give preliminary approval to the ordinance.

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