UX Solar, a joint venture between Excelsior Energy Capital and Unico Solar Investors LLC, along with co-development partner Namasté Solar, broke ground on four new community solar gardens in the Denver metro area, totaling 8 MW of capacity.
In 2019, Xcel Energy selected Unico Solar and Namasté Solar to develop and build the new community solar gardens.
The development will operate on a mixed subscription-based model, providing access to solar energy for both residential and private commercial customers. Seventy-five percent of the renewable power will be provided to 16 buildings owned by Unico Properties in Boulder and Denver. The remaining 25% will be sold to residential customers.
Seattle-based Unico Properties is a big property owner in the Denver area. But most of the properties are not well suited to solar, said Adam Knoff, director and co-founder of Unico Solar, in an interview with pv magazine USA. Most buildings are either “tall and skinny” or historic structures that didn’t lend themselves to solar, he said.
As a result, UX Solar is leasing a total of 40 acres in suburban Aurora to accommodate the four solar sites. Each site is expected to generate 3.65 million kWh per year, totaling more than 290 million kWh over the 20-year contract term with Xcel Energy. Modules for the projects are from Boviet, Chint is supplying inverters, and racking is by Array Technologies.
The community solar gardens work toward Colorado’s overall goal to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2040, as set forth by HB-1003, the Community Solar Gardens Modernization Act, which makes it easier for the state’s residents to access clean energy.
The new sites are part of a planned three-year, 250 MW portfolio of distributed solar projects being built by Unico Solar and Excelsior across North America.
Project financing is through Excelsior’s Renewable Energy Investment Fund I LP and will include tax equity and debt. The fund has total capital commitments of $504 million and invests equity in middle-market wind and solar power plants across the United States and Canada. To date, the fund has made seven investments covering 27 solar and wind projects across five states, with a combined nameplate capacity of 192 MW.
Knoff said one of the biggest development challenges in Colorado has been the competitive nature of the community solar program.
“The past year’s RFP was hands down the most competitive Xcel Energy had,” he said. The RFP solicited proposals for 75 MW of capacity and garnered more than 350 MW in proposals.
Finding suitable development sites has also proved challenging, Knoff said. Not only is it critical to find substations with sufficient capacity, but also solar developers are competing with real estate developers and oil and gas interests for land owners’ attention.
Unico Solar is working with the City of Denver and its Renewable Denver Initiative to site additional community solar on carports, libraries, and community centers.
For now, at least, Colorado’s rate structure does not lend itself to including energy storage along with community solar. Knoff said that storage technology remains expensive. That, coupled with Colorado’s relatively unfavorable rate structure, is keeping storage off the table.
Editor’s note: The story was updated to correct Adam Knoff’s title and include equipment suppliers for the community solar projects.
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