CORE helps launch solar campaign | AspenTimes.com

CORE helps launch solar campaign

Fresh on the heels of President Obama's climate-change plan, Aspen's Community Office for Resource Efficiency and allied groups announced Thursday that they are launching a major initiative to boost solar-energy use in Colorado.

The Million Solar Roofs campaign calls for the installation of the equivalent of 1 million solar roofs in Colorado by 2030. That would be a tenfold increase in the amount of solar energy already installed in state.

The kickoff of the campaign was planned for Thursday for some time and happened to coincide with the release this week of the Obama administration's energy announcement, according to Mona Newton, CORE's executive director. Obama ordered the Department of Interior to make it easier to construct renewable-energy projects on federal lands. He also committed to boost funding for clean-energy research by 30 percent to $7.9 billion.

"Really great timing," Newton said. "Sometimes you can't even plan it."

Newton said she believes the Roaring Fork Valley is ahead of most areas of the state in solar-power installation. Boulder County is probably the leader, said Newton, who previously worked in the solar industry and also in the Colorado Governor's Energy Office helping Front Range and Eastern Plains communities to boost energy efficiency and tap renewable energy sources.

Education and financial incentives are the best tools to entice Roaring Fork Valley residents and businesses to install solar power, according to Newton. Several incentives already exist. CORE offers rebates of as much as $3,000 for solar-electric projects and as much as $6,000 for solar-thermal. Holy Cross Energy and the cities of Aspen and Glenwood Springs also offer rebates to their customers or constituents. A federal tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of a project also exists, Newton said.

The free market also provides incentives.

"The great thing is the prices have really dropped" on solar panels and associated infrastructure, Newton said. She estimated that prices have plunged 50 percent since 2007.

It would cost about $20,000 out of pocket to construct a 4-kilowatt solar-electric residential project, she said. However, tax credits and rebates could reduce the expense by 50 percent or more.

A system that size would produce about 520 kilowatts of electricity per month, according to Newton. The average house in Colorado uses about 600 kilowatt-hours per month, she said.

While it is good news that the Roaring Fork Valley already has invested heavily in solar energy, it also makes it tougher to boost usage.

"You've already picked the low-hanging fruit," Newton said.

But the valley also has a lot of empty rooftop space. A report by Environment Colorado for the Million Solar Roofs campaign said Denver has sunny skies 245 days a year. Colorado as a whole has a better solar resource than many places in California, the nation's solar leader, the report said.

The executive summary of the report is available at http://www.environmentcolorado center.org/reports/coc/million-solar- roofs-colorado.

Newton said CORE and other conservation groups need to increase efforts to get information to homeowners and business owners about the costs and benefits of solar-photovoltaic systems. CORE's Energy Resource Center is available for consultation at 970-925-9775.