Meeting local, state and utility clean energy targets while maximizing regional benefits in Eagle, Garfield & Pitkin counties
Defining Utility-Scale, Community-Scale & Net-Metered Solar:
Utility-scale solar is typically 15 megawatts (MW) or more in size, covering 75 or more acres and connected directly to regional transmission lines.
Community-scale solar (CSS) is typically 1 MW to 15 MW in size, built on parcels of 5 to 75 acres, and connected to the distribution grid.
Net-metered (NM) solar, which can be on rooftops or ground-mounted nearby, is much smaller and usually sized to offset about 100% of the customer’s annual energy use. Systems are connected “behind the meter,” where they directly offset a customer’s electricity
The state of Colorado, local governments in Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties, and the electric utilities serving the three-county region have all set goals to shift the region’s electricity supply to renewable energy.
At present, renewable energy only fuels a portion of the three-county region’s electricity usage. Most of that clean energy comes from large, utility-scale solar and wind facilities located in other areas. Yet the region is blessed with abundant sunshine, and a significant share of the region’s electricity demand could be met by generating more solar-powered electricity within the region.
While utility-scale solar projects produce electricity for the lowest unit cost, building such large facilities within the mountainous three-county region isn’t feasible. The region is ideally suited, however, for development of mid-sized community-scale and smaller net-metered systems. The incrementally higher generation costs of these systems can be significantly offset by avoiding long-distance transmission costs and by capturing a share of installation and operational costs to benefit the regional economy. Coupling these systems with battery storage delivers further benefits to consumers and utilities.
This report builds on longstanding efforts in the three counties to accelerate locally-produced clean energy. A team of local clean energy advocates and experts, technical advisors and a national real estate mapping firm worked together to quantify and evaluate the region’s potential for development of more community-scale and net-metered solar plus battery storage. The project team also examined how solar plus storage could deliver other benefits to the region, developed a map of all of the potential sites for community-scale solar development and created an online toolbox for landowners and local government officials.
The project team noted the high value of customer-owned, net-metered solar plus storage systems. Because there are so many variables associated with smaller net-metered systems, the team concentrated its in-depth analysis on the potential for community-scale solar plus storage.
This study is focused on the development of new resources for energy production. However, energy efficiency plays a critical role in these calculations. Reductions in electricity consumption achieved through efficiency measures will increase the ratio of local energy production to usage.
Through this study, the project team sought to answer a series of questions about the potential scale of solar plus storage development and the benefits such development could deliver. The answers, presented here as key findings, show exceptional promise for using solar plus storage to help meet renewable energy goals.