According to Jonathan Rogers, a renewable energy specialist in Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability & Resiliency, distributed solar makes up only about 1.5% of electricity use in Denver.
“We are going to need a lot more to reach our goals,” Rogers said.
In 2018, Denver released its 80x50 Climate Action Plan that calls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050, including a goal for the city to be powered by 100% renewable electricity by 2030, Rogers said.
“We are fortunate that our utility, Xcel Energy, has released a plan to bring Colorado to 80% renewable electricity by 2030,” Rogers said. “This is exciting, but there is still that gap we need to fill to get Denver to 100% renewable electricity.”
Then, last year, Denver’s Climate Action Task Force “encouraged Denver to go even further, faster, by calling for a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040,” Rogers said.
And the task force is encouraging Denver to also concentrate on equity and environmental justice in its energy transition.
The city now is partnering with Solar United Neighbors’ third co-op to launch a new pilot program called the Solar Equity Rebate Program, which will help every homeowner and small business in Denver that wants to go solar.
Solar United Neighbors (SUN) is a nonprofit organization that works nationwide, with its Colorado office based in Denver. SUN launched in Colorado in 2019, and the first two Denver co-ops have helped 62 households and businesses in Denver build 341 kilowatts of solar, Rogers said.
SUN is now offering its third co-op. It launched on Sept. 15 and anybody who would like to join has until Nov. 20 to sign up.
SUN serves as an advocate for its co-op members, said Bryce Carter, SUN’s Colorado program director.
“We’re here to help people find out if going solar is right for them,” he said.
The goal is to get 150 members to join the third co-op, but that is not a cap, Carter said. As of late October, about 60 people have joined.
Joining a co-op is free, and there is no obligation for members to purchase solar.
“If, for whatever reason, a person or small business decides not to go solar, they can walk away,” Carter said.
The purpose of the co-op is to provide people with an opportunity to learn more about going solar, including providing any necessary education and information about equipment. SUN streamlines the process of researching installers for quality control and other important factors while remaining vendor-neutral. Co-op members get a group rate on solar installation.
Still, “we have found that the upfront cost of solar can be a major barrier for many families,” Rogers said. “The Solar Equity Rebate Program will help extend accessibility of rooftop solar to our low-to-moderate income communities.”
The Solar Equity Rebate Program provides $3,000 toward the cost of solar and $2,000 toward the cost of battery storage for income-qualifying SUN co-op members. A hardship fund will also be available to support unforeseen circumstances, such as the need for roof repairs or electrical service upgrades, Rogers said.
Additionally, the Denver Office of Nonprofit Engagement will assist co-op members interested in additional bill savings by connecting them to nonprofits administering income-qualified energy efficiency programs.
“Climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying. Distributed energy resources, like solar, are needed to meet Denver’s climate goals, while supporting affordability and resiliency in our energy transition,” Rogers said. “Hopefully, we’ll see more installations across the city.”
The 2021 co-op is hoping to expand its reach to Denver’s Neighborhood Equity & Stabilization (NEST) neighborhoods, Carter said. NEST neighborhoods are the city’s neighborhoods that are experiencing, or have experienced, gentrification and significant-and-fast change, states the city’s website. Often, residents of these neighborhoods “are faced with a rising cost of living, while locally owned businesses struggle with increased rent costs and the need to diversify their businesses to attract new customers from the evolving community,” states the city’s website.
Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval, who represents District 1 which includes northwest Denver, said in a news release that she is thrilled to see the co-op continue to expand its reach and “extend the benefits of solar energy to all through Solar Equity rebates to our low-to-moderate income community members.”
“There is a place for every one of us to participate in, and enjoy, the benefits of Colorado’s transition to a clean energy future,” Sandoval added in the news release.
SUN would like to offer the opportunity for anyone to get involved with helping the organization get the word out about its third co-op to NEST neighborhoods, Carter said. There are many opportunities, including outreach volunteering, he added. People who are bilingual are especially needed.
“Denver residents and business owners understand the benefits of taking care of their community,” Carter said. “We want to make solar available and more equitable to everyone.”