Huge solar garden soon to be shining in Paradox Valley

The sunny Paradox Valley is to be home this year to what backers call the largest community-owned solar array in the nation.

The San Miguel Power Association and Clean Energy Collective, a for-profit company based in El Jebel, broke ground on the array last week in the Paradox Valley of western Colorado. Once complete in a few months, backers hope that the 1.1 megawatt array will be owned by San Miguel Valley Power customers.

The solar array, or solar garden as it’s sometimes called, “reduces the need for coal and fossil-fuel based power” and will allow customers to save thousands of dollars over the life of the project, said David Wiedinmyer, director of business development at the Clean Energy Collective.

The Paradox Valley solar garden also could be in the vanguard of similar gardens across Colorado, Wiedinmyer said.

In short, the approach is that Clean Energy Collective fronts the cost of building the array and sells the electricity it generates to San Miguel Power customers.

Those customers, meanwhile, can reduce or, in theory, eliminate their electricity bills and buy one or more of the 4,580 solar panels in the array for $705 each. The panels generate 235 watts each.

Clean Energy Collective, using proprietary software, reconciles the amount of electricity generated by the panels and the customers who own them to adjust electricity bills accordingly, Wiedinmyer said.

Clean Energy Collective already has similar projects under way or complete in Rifle, Windsor and Colorado Springs and one in Minnesota.

The Paradox Valley project is the largest and, Wiedinmyer said he hopes, the forerunner to other large community-owned solar gardens across the state under the solar-garden law approved by the Legislature this year.

Now that construction is under way, Clean Energy Collective will step up its sales and education efforts, Wiedinmyer said.

Response so far has been positive, especially among San Miguel Power customers in Telluride, Mountain Village,  Ridgway and Ouray, he said.

San Miguel Power began looking into the solar-garden idea about two years ago after members expressed interest in solar power in surveys, said Becky Mashburn, spokeswoman for the association.

Only San Miguel Power customers can purchase panels in the Paradox Valley array and there is no limit on the number of panels they can buy.

There is the possibility that the array could be expanded within the nine acres it will occupy in the Paradox Valley, Wiedinmyer said.

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