The state could see larger solar gardens under a bill that won approval in the Colorado House on Monday.
Under current law, solar farms are limited to producing no more than 2 megawatts of photovoltaic electricity. The measure, HB1003, would increase that limitation to 5 megawatts. Initially, the bill called for increasing it to 10 megawatts, but it was amended to the lower amount by the House Energy & Environment Committee back in January.
Solar gardens are designed to allow electricity users who can't install their own solar panels to purchase shares in a solar garden, also known as a solar farm.
Currently, there are nearly 70 such gardens statewide, together producing about 50 megawatts of power, according to the Colorado Energy Office.
"Community solar gardens are the outgrowth of a particular problem that is occurring and is fairly pervasive, and that is only about 25 percent of people's homes can actually put solar panels on their roof," said Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, who introduced the measure with Rep. Alex Valdez, D-Denver. "Many homes don't have the right structure, they don't face the right way, there might be a big tree in the way. So community solar gardens are the chance for those folks in those situations to be able to have direct ownership."
According to the Colorado Energy Office, 49 percent of Colorado households and 48 percent of businesses are not able to install solar panels for various reasons.
Hansen also said the bill expands the locations from which homeowners can purchase such shares.
Under current law, such gardens must be located in the county or county adjacent to where the people who are buying shares live.
The bill expands that to anywhere in the utility service area the garden is sending power. For those who purchase shares from gardens affiliated with Xcel Energy, for example, that means they would be able to purchase solar power from anywhere in the state served by that utility.
Grand Valley Power, which operates its own solar farms in the area, announced in February a goal of generating more than 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.
Last year, Mesa County commissioners approved a 2-megawatt solar farm near Horse Mountain roads east of Palisade. That facility, which is still under construction, will have 6,300 panels on about 13 acres and send its electricity through Xcel's power grid.
Though no lawmaker spoke against the bill on the House floor, no Republican voted for it. It passed on a straight 40-23 party-line vote, with two Democrats excused for the day.
The bill heads to the Senate for more debate.