Solar gardens project draws competition

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Colorado Springs Utilities is accepting proposals for more solar gardens like this one at Venetucci Farms.

Colorado Springs Utilities is accepting proposals for more solar gardens like this one at Venetucci Farms.

More than a month after Colorado Springs City Council voted in favor of a plan that would double the scope of the city’s community solar garden program, 10 contractors expressed interest in doing business in the local market.

During a mandatory pre-proposal conference held by Colorado Springs Utilities last week, the 10 companies — half based in Colorado and the rest with headquarters in five other states — conveyed their interest in the contract, were briefed on the terms and were able to ask technical questions about the expansion.

The project was approved by City Council in a 6-to-3 vote Aug. 14 after members rescinded the previous Council’s approval of a 10-megawatt expansion in April.

Council passed the buck for the planned 2-megawatt expansion to Utilities’ customers at the rate of about 50 cents per year for the next 20 years.

Council passed the buck for the planned 2-megawatt expansion to Utilities’ customers at the rate of about 50 cents per year for the next 20 years, according to Utilities’ request for proposals published in early September.

“That figure has not changed,” said Utilities spokesman Dave Grossman. “Fifty cents a year is the average cost for each of our 189,000 residential electric customers. The program’s average cost per year for commercial and industrial customers would be higher since their bills are higher, on average, than those of residential customers. We have a total of 215,000 electric customers.”

The deadline for bid proposals is Oct. 1, and Utilities said that they hope to award the contract in mid-October and complete the project within one year.

The location of the systems included in the contract is up to the discretion of the developer, but must be within what Utilities calls its “certified electric service territory,” according to the RFP. The document also states that one or more developers will be awarded the bid depending on qualifications and minimization of risk.

“Utilities is one of the largest four-service (electric, natural gas, water, waste-water treatment) municipal utility services in the nation and the second largest electric system in the state of Colorado,” according to CSU’s documents. “Being a municipal utility means that customers are the owners. Utilities is governed by the City Council for the City of Colorado Springs, which also acts as the Utilities Board.”

Because only companies in attendance — physically or electronically — at the pre-proposal meeting are permitted to vie for the bid, the following 10 companies are in the running:

SunShare is a Colorado Springs-based solar energy startup owned by Colorado College graduate David Amster-Olszewski. SunShare built and operates two community solar gardens in Utilities’ pilot program: one at Venetucci Farm and the other at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School.

Clean Energy Collective is a Springs-based solar energy firm that is member owned and builds, operates and maintains clean energy facilities at a community level — specializing in community solar gardens. CEC has completed projects in Colorado, Minnesota and Vermont.

El Paso Green Energies is a family-owned and -operated business based in Colorado Springs whose personnel are certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners and works primarily in the Colorado market.

Solar Power Financial is based in Boulder. This company develops and finances renewable energy and real estate projects as a consultant both in the United States and foreign markets. SPF has worked primarily in the Colorado, Hawaii and Mexico markets.

Custom Solar is a renewable energy design and construction firm that is also based in Boulder. The Colorado company provides solar electric, solar thermal and green engineering solutions for residential and commercial clients throughout the state, according to CustomSolar.com.

Ecoplexus Solar Solutions is a development, design, engineering, construction and financing contractor based in San Francisco that specializes in solar systems for commercial, municipal, nonprofit and utility markets both nationally and internationally. Some of Ecoplexus’ recent projects were in Colorado, Georgia and California.

Affordable Solar is based in Albuquerque and specializes in all things solar, with more than 14 years of experience in the field, according to Affordable-Solar.com. The company also says on its website that it can “design and distribute renewable energy systems for residential, commercial and industrial use domestically and internationally.”

Cornwell Group is headquartered in Kapolei, Hawaii, with a location in downtown Colorado Springs and is a strategic management firm that provides consulting, data research and analysis to clientele worldwide, according to CornwellGroup.com.

Cascade Renewable Energy is a Grand Rapids, Mich., company with expertise in design, installation, program management and quality/safety assurance pertaining to such renewable energy operations as wind farms and solar systems, according to CascadeRenewableEnergy.com.

HelioSage Energy is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., and focuses specifically on solar energy project development. The firm has worked in 15 states since its inception in 2008 and “has been responsible for the construction of over 400 megawatts of renewable energy projects,” according to HelioSage.com.

The only companies who were physically present at the meeting were representatives from SunShare and El Paso Green Energies — spokespersons from the remaining eight companies attended electronically.

Original plans for the program’s expansion would have cost Utilities customers a 20-year total of nearly $22 million, according to earlier estimates, but that figure shrank along with the size and scope of the program. After the expansion is complete, customers within Utilities’ certified service area will have the option to purchase panel space — with a maximum customer benefit of roughly 13 cents/kilowatt hour.

The community solar garden pilot program was launched by Utilities in September 2011, and is currently fully subscribed with around 400 customers. It features only three solar gardens – SunShare operates two and the Air Force Academy operates one – that make up a total power availability of 1.5 megawatts, and Utilities says a fourth is currently being completed to build the 2-megawatt pilot program.

“Utilities was one of the first municipal utilities in the nation, working with the local solar industry, to offer a CSG option to its customers through a pilot CSG program,” according to the RFP. “Customers began receiving electric bill credits on their electricity bills in February 2012.”

The concept of community solar gardens in Colorado Springs was spurred by state legislation that requires utilities to obtain 20 percent of their electricity from renewables. However, as a municipal utility, CSU is exempt but says they aim to meet that standard.

2 Responses to Solar gardens project draws competition

  1. There is no way any of these companies should win this city contract unless they agree to hire local workers and help with the unemployment rate in our community. And the City should not allow these companies to use NABCEP certification requirement as an excuse to not hire local workers. If any of these companies insist that renewable energy workers must be NABCEP certified to work on their projects then the contractor awarded this project should be required to train and pay for NABCEP certification for local workers. Renewable energy companies are using NABCEP as a means and mechanism to keep new workers out of the renewable energy industry so they can import workers from out of the state and out of the country.

    Steven Shepard
    September 25, 2013 at 11:36 pm

  2. While I agree with Mr. Shepard’s comments about hiring local labor, it also needs to be understood that the jobs created during the construction phase are only temporary so the overall effect to the employment rate will be negligible. What I beleive is the more important issue is overall cost of building these solar farms. This is money which will have to be financed and will have a much more long term effect on the community than temporary jobs. This is money that must be paid back and the interest can amount to a substantial sum.

    Solar Panels San Jose
    September 26, 2013 at 11:34 am