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New solar agreement can offset users’ electrical costs

La Plata Electrical Association is getting into gardening – solar gardening.

LPEA’s board of directors has approved a policy agreement with four community solar gardens that will allow its customers to purchase or invest in solar panels to offset their electrical costs.

Policy 366, as LPEA is calling it, will set the stage for local, independent solar developers to construct community solar gardens, or CSGs, generating up to 2 megawatts of power in the LPEA service territory.

These solar gardens are distributed solar-electric generation facilities from which consumers can buy shares or entire panels that account for a certain amount of electricity, according to a news release from the electric co-op.

LPEA’s CEO Greg Munro said, while it took a lot of work, he is proud of the program.

“This gives opportunities to people who just don’t have the right location for solar or maybe they can’t afford a large unit that will take care of their needs,” he said. “But it gives everybody a chance to have some solar power, one way or the other.”

Mark Schwantes, LPEA’s manager of corporate services, said the program could benefit renters, low-income utility consumers and agricultural producers as well.

Munro said LPEA will “pretend the solar panel is behind your meter” and reduce a customer’s electrical bills that way.

“We call it virtual metering,” he said. “We virtually take that electricity off your solar panel and pretend it’s at your house.”

Presently, there are four CSG subscriber organizations: Armadillo Community Solar Garden, Clean Energy Collective, Durango Solar Gardens/Shaw Solar and Sun Mesa Solar Gardens.

“It will be a competitive market,” Munro said.

While costs will be determined by the solar developers, LPEA is calling for a minimum 1 kilowatt share to be purchased.

Future projects could take place in Archuleta County.

“The next round will be easier for the solar industry and for us,” Munro said. “We’re still learning. Both of us learned a lot.”

LPEA will have no involvement with the management of the community solar gardens or their subscribers, other than crediting their bills with the kilowatt generated at the facilities.

“When the sun’s not shining, it doesn’t generate electricity,” Munro said. “So we’re still the backup.”

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