Manitou: Going solar and saving money?


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When most of us think of switching to renewable energy, we assume it will cost more.

If that were true, Manitou Springs taxpayers might have cause to whine at the recent announcement that the city will soon go "100 percent solar." But the company selling the town the energy doesn't think taxpayers ought to be worried. That's because if SunShare's cost estimates for Manitou Springs (and its projections for the increasing costs of fossil fuels from Colorado Springs Utilities) are correct, Manitou may actually save nearly $359,000 over 20 years by switching its public buildings to solar energy.

Manitou Springs has agreed to use SunShare's community solar project — meaning it's buying the energy for the panels, not installing the panels on its buildings — for all of its structures. That includes city hall, the Manitou Springs Pool, the public works building, and the water treatment plant. In all, the buildings use about 1,080,000 kilowatt-hours a year. That energy currently costs the city about $59,400.

According to SunShare's plan, the city will pay the same amount for solar energy in its first year. But as costs of fossil fuels rise, the cost of solar energy will remain fairly stable, leading the savings.  Check out the graphs below:



Anyway, Manitoids are pretty excited about this little development, which came shortly before Earth Day. Here's the city's announcement:

City of Manitou Springs Votes to be 100 Percent Powered by Solar
Manitou Springs to be first city in the nation to use community solar for 100 percent of electric energy needs

After a historic vote last week, the city of Manitou Springs signed a contract to provide up to 100 percent of its city facilities’ energy needs from community solar. The energy will be generated by nearly 3,000 solar panels in SunShare’s newest solar garden awarded by Colorado Springs Utilities last winter. SunShare’s newest 2 megawatt AC community solar garden, the largest in the United States, will be under construction later this summer.

The decision marks the culmination of a public process lasting several months including presentations to Manitou Springs City Council, public comments and a work session. The room broke out in applause after the council voted unanimously to power all city facilities by solar energy just before Earth Day.

Not only an environmental decision, but also an economic one, Manitou will fix the city’s energy costs at today’s levels, protecting the city from volatile fossil fuel prices. Meanwhile, the city will double its 2020 carbon reduction goals five years ahead of schedule, with a greater than 60 percent reduction in total carbon emissions produced by the city’s use of electricity, natural gas, gasoline and solid waste.

“Manitou Springs wants to set an example for our community and cities across the nation to follow our lead with this program,” said Mayor Marc Snyder. “Not only will our city facilities be powered by solar, but thanks to Colorado Springs Utilities every resident and business in Manitou Springs now has the ability to join us in this Community Solar program.”

With one state after another creating programs similar to Colorado Springs Utilities’ landmark Community Solar Garden program, Manitou Springs may be the first of many cities to choose to source 100 percent its energy needs from community solar.

In 2010 the Colorado State legislature led the nation by passing the country’s first Community Solar Gardens Act. The act has inspired 16 states from Minnesota to California to develop legislation creating their own Community Solar Gardens programs.

Community solar was designed to broaden citizen and community access to locally generated solar energy. Residents living in apartments, small businesses and homeowners that couldn’t afford their own systems, or large organizations without the proper roof space now have the option to choose. Colorado Springs Utilities took a leadership role by becoming the first municipal utility in the country to implement its own Community Solar Garden program in 2011.

“Community solar has been extremely popular in Colorado Springs,” says Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities. “Community solar is a cost-effective solar energy option that’s accessible to everyone, and we’re proud that we were one of the first communities to create this option for our customers with SunShare.”

“Manitou Springs is demonstrating that renewable energy is a serious priority for cities,” said Jan Martin, Colorado Springs Utilities board member and an early supporter of community solar in Colorado Springs. “I’m so proud of our community for being a leader in the development and adoption of community solar programs—it puts us on the national map as an innovator.”

“We are thrilled to be a part of Manitou’s success — it is leadership like that shown from Colorado Springs Utilities, Manitou Springs, and the hundreds of citizens choosing to participate in our community solar gardens that will drive greater adoption of renewable energy in our communities,” said David Amster-Olszewski, President and CEO of SunShare. “Working with the city of Manitou Springs has been an absolute pleasure and I can’t wait to help them achieve their goals.”

SunShare has over 13 megawatts of community solar gardens under development in Colorado’s Front Range. They have projects underway with Colorado Springs Utilities, Xcel Energy and Fort Collins Utilities with the capacity to serve over 3,000 homes.


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