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New report ranks Denver #10 in nation for solar power as state regulators examine how to value distributed solar

Solar-powered auto body shop joins Environment Colorado to call for more solar

Denver – Today, Environment Colorado released a new report: “Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution”, a first-of-its kind comparison of the growth of solar in major American cities. The report ranks Denver 10th in the nation for installed solar as well as in solar capacity per capita. Denver’s cumulative installed solar capacity at the end of 2013 was 25 MW.

Environment Colorado was joined at Mancinelli’s Auto Repair Center by Mary Beth Susman, President of the Denver City Council; Rebecca Cantwell, Senior Program Director with COSEIA, the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association; and Steve Mancinelli, owner of 100% solar-powered auto body shop Mancinelli’s Auto Repair Center, to discuss ways to keep Denver and the rest of Colorado at the forefront of solar energy development. 

“Solar power is booming across the country and cities are at the forefront,” said Margaret McCall, energy associate with Environment Colorado. “As the #10 city in the country, Denver is a case in point—but we still have work to do to make the most of our 300 days of sun.”

The release comes two days after the Colorado Public Utilities Commission held a three-hour meeting to consider how to evaluate the costs and benefits of distributed solar generation. After Xcel Energy last fall faced public outcry from its proposal to roll back the critical solar policy of net metering, regulators agreed to study the issue in a fair and transparent process.

Denver’s top-ten ranking for installed solar is balanced by Colorado’s stalling in term of solar industry employment. Nationwide, solar jobs grew by almost 20% in 2013, exceeding expectations and growing almost ten times faster than the rest of the economy. However, despite Colorado’s enormous solar potential, job growth leveled off between 2012 and 2013 in the state’s solar industry, with the state claiming 3,600 solar jobs each year.

“Colorado has about 300 solar companies providing good jobs all across Denver and the rest of our state,’’ said Cantwell of COSEIA. “But to keep the solar industry strong, we need to keep policies in place such as net metering that give all Coloradans the opportunity to go solar and make a contribution to cleaning up the air and achieving energy independence.’’

The report pointed to policies that encourage investment in solar PV installations, which have been adopted by local leaders in solar cities around the country. "The City of Denver has actively contributed to Denver's top national ranking by championing a number of city-led energy conservation programs,” noted Council President Susman. “The City utilizes such programs as Better Buildings Denver, the Denver Energy Challenge, and Certifiably Green Denver that utilize a number of measures, including the installation of solar panels, to reduce energy consumption and increase energy efficiency.” Policies include the following:

  • City leaders can set ambitious and achievable goals and citizens and businesses can work with local governments to meet them.  Cities can lead by example by putting solar on public buildings: Denver has installed 9.4 MW of solar power on city and county buildings, and the city has partnered with the Denver Public Schools to install solar power on 28 school buildings.
  • City leaders can also demand a strong partnership with the federal government to ensure that federal incentives such as tax credits are continued. And federal programs, such as the Solar America Cities and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant programs, continue to provide support and technical assistance to cities seeking to expand solar. Denver was designated a Solar America City in 2008.
  • Cities can adopt policies to advance solar power in their communities. Denver was the first Solar Friendly Community, a recognition achieved by streamlining its permitting, inspection and zoning rules for solar that cut red tape and bring down the costs of going solar for residents.  Denver has also sponsored “Solarize” programs that use bulk purchasing and educational campaigns to help neighbors “go solar” together.
  • City leaders can work with state governments to ensure that they have strong programs to expand solar, including renewable energy standards, solar carve-outs, net metering, and community solar programs.

The report also gave an overview of the benefits of solar energy, including its role in reducing air pollution, saving water, protecting consumers, and creating jobs. Mancinelli, who installed solar on his auto repair shop in 2010, said, “The return from Xcel, along with the money I save by not paying for electricity, will offset my investment in the system in 3 more years…. I no longer have to worry about electricity expenses. The payoff will be…as commercial rates continue to rise.”

The need for both city and state leaders to set ambitious goals for solar development is highlighted by the report. Environment Colorado and COSEIA have jointly launched Colorado’s Million Solar Roofs campaign, which sets a goal of 3,000 MW of solar in Colorado by 2030—enough to power a million homes. More than 11,000 Coloradans have signed petitions asking Gov. Hickenlooper to publicly champion this vision. California’s Million Solar Roofs campaign of 2006, in which Gov. Schwarzenegger came out in support of an ambitious vision for solar in the state, has directly contributed to California having four cities in the top ten for installed solar.

“The sky’s the limit on solar energy. Denver is a shining example of solar leadership,” said McCall. “But we’ve barely scratched the surface of the potential to capture this pollution-free energy source. By committing to bold goals and expanding on the good policies we’ve adopted, we can take solar to the next level in Denver and across Colorado.”