As Washington careens from manufactured crisis to inane distraction, global temperatures continue to rise, and the need for more jobs and higher wages increases. More and more, it falls on communities to take the lead in fighting climate change and expanding our clean energy economy.
Solar power offers one of our best opportunities to do so. Despite wild swings in our national politics, solar power has grown by an average of 70 percent each year over the last decade, while the cost of installation has fallen by nearly as much.
Despite these gains, nearly half of U.S. households and businesses cannot host a solar power system, either because they rent, share the space, or have a layout unsuitable for installation. Solar can never reach its full potential until we find a way to reach these consumers.
Our best answer is community solar.
In essence, community solar allows more Americans to enjoy the benefits of clean energy without having to install rooftop panels on their home or business. It does that by converting an unused or marginal space into a solar field and then allowing locals to buy a share of its energy production to offset their consumption.
With community solar, those who cannot afford solar installation, don’t own their home, or live or work somewhere that can’t accommodate a solar system, can still choose clean, renewable energy.
Community solar is one of the most promising developments in renewable energy. It expands access to clean energy resources and helps households and businesses save on their electricity bills. Colorado is leading the way in this new model, but we have only begun to realize its promise.
That is why this week, I introduced legislation to make permanent a Department of Energy program to promote community solar, especially in low-income communities.
The bill also encourages the federal government — the largest employer and consumer in America — to participate in community solar projects.
I have seen the promise of community solar in Colorado. We were the first state to pass legislation on community solar, and in just a few years, we have installed enough community solar to power thousands of homes across our state. Today, over 7,000 Coloradans work in solar, many in community solar projects. For us, this is not some Bolshevik fantasy; it is a proven and profitable enterprise.
One of my favorite places is Pueblo. The Pueblo County School District is the lowest funded district in the state. It’s also the largest, in terms of geographic size. So it was an unlikely candidate to become the first District in the state to source 100 percent of its electricity from solar.
It didn’t have the capital for a major installation. Plus, a lot of schools in the district lacked the right layout for rooftop panels.
That’s where the Clean Energy Collective came in. Working with the District, the Collective built Roofless Solar arrays in town. Now, kids study with lights powered by the sun. Teachers fire up projector screens charged by clean, renewable energy.
In the first year alone, the District saved $35,000. Over the life of the program, those savings will exceed $2 million dollars.
That’s enough to buy a Chromebook for seven out of ten kids in the District. It’s enough to pay all 32 employees at Prairie Winds Elementary for a year.
Stories like this are why community solar has boomed across Colorado.
In the end, this is not just about individuals having a financial stake in a particular solar project; it’s about all of us having a stake in the future, recognizing that — when we come together as a community — we can seize opportunities we once thought were out of reach and make smart investments for tomorrow.
As global temperatures rise and renewable energy provides more job opportunities, we turn to communities for the clean energy leadership we need, now more than ever.