MARCH 4, 2019 BY 

By Eleanor C. Hasenbeck

Steamboat Pilot, March 3, 2019

There’s power in numbers, and a nonprofit wants to use that power to bring cheaper solar energy to the Yampa Valley by charging up a solar cooperative.

Solar United Neighbors, a nonprofit that has helped kick start solar cooperatives around the nation, is working to launch two solar co-ops in Colorado — Fort Collins and the Yampa Valley.

Photo: Solar United Neighbors is launching a solar co-op in the Yampa Valley in an effort to help residents purchase and install solar panels at a lower cost than the market rate.

“What we do is we basically help facilitate these bulk purchases through the means of solar co-ops,” said Solar United Colorado Program Director Bryce Carter.

Essentially, a group of homeowners and small business owners band together to purchase solar panels and installation services in bulk, which results in a discounted price for individual co-op members. Once about 20 people are interested, Solar United assembles a request for proposals from installers, then co-op members select an installer and move forward with putting up the panels.

Though Solar United most frequently facilitates rooftop or ground-mount solar panel installs for co-ops, Carter said the organization is open to whatever installers are able to do. For communities, too, solar power addresses different energy needs.

“When we look at solar, it’s creating their own independent means of creating independent generation on their rooftop,” Carter said. “Especially for ranchers, when you’re looking at the need to go stretch out wires that might go out for thousands of feet, if not miles, it sometimes gets to be more cost effective to have solar panels and maybe a small battery to have lights or pumps or whatever else it might be.”

The first step in creating the co-op, Carter said, is attending an info session, in which participants will learn about the co-op process and solar power, technology and financing installation. Those interested can join the co-op at an info session.

Sessions will be held in the following locations:

  • Steamboat Springs: 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 13 at Library Hall in Bud Werner Memorial Library
  • Hayden from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Thursday, March 14 at Wild Goose Coffee at the Granary
  • Craig from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 14 at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion

There is no commitment to purchase until after an installer is selected and conducts site visits.

These site visits, the final step before installation, could come as soon as May 2019, Carter said.

The organization, with the support of an anonymous donor, will also sponsor up to four Routt or Moffat County residents to attend two courses intended to launch a career in solar installation. Carter said this opportunity aims to provide a learning opportunity both in training and in shadowing on-site installations for co-op members to create sustainable jobs in the community.

“Really this is about economic development when it comes to creating opportunities, whoever it is, to build up infrastructure and keep energy dollar local, but also creating jobs in the process,” Carter said.

He added that putting more solar power on the grid — and the job market — will build a more resilient community in the Yampa Valley.

Routt County relies on coal, both to turn on the lights and to power the economy. Six of Routt County’s top 10 taxpayers are involved in energy production, transmission and distribution largely related to coal dug up at Twentymile Mine and burned at Hayden Station.

Xcel Energy, the majority owner of Hayden Station, recently announced that the company plans to provide carbon-neutral electricity by 2050.

Peabody Energy, the company that owns Twentymile, was Routt County’s largest taxpayer in tax year 2014. By 2017, Peabody was the fourth largest. The company’s November 2018 evaluation was less than half of what it was in 2014, according to Routt County Assessor Gary Peterson.

“I don’t think it’s an option between coal and solar,” Carter said. “As we look at coal big picture, the future of coal is a challenging one. One way or another, I think the question is how do you become a more resilient community and with or without coal industry, there’s still a need for energy. … All in all, coal or not, I think this is a great economic opportunity and it’s also a step in the way of building a more resilient community.”

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Solar United, backed by an anonymous donor, will also sponsor up to four Routt or Moffat County residents to attend two courses intended to launch a career in solar installation. Those four people will receive a PV Solar Associate Certificate by completing a five-day, entry-level solar design and installation training in Paonia, a more advanced online course exploring the fundamentals of battery-based systems and the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners’ exam.

“We’re excited to tie this straight into the co-op, so the folks that get this training can actually then partner with the installers, go on site, get that experience as well and have it be a well-rounded experience that can hopefully lead them to actually be hired by those companies,” Carter said.

Any Routt or Moffat County individual or company interested in starting a career or expanding into solar installation is invited to apply. The application deadline is March 15.

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To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email