Goin’ mobile: solar project in Colorado for the benefit of prefabricated houses

By Brad Kramer March 13, 2023

Holy Cross Energy (HCE), a Colorado rural electric cooperative, is deploying a 450-kW community solar project to power prefab homes in Eagle County in the state’s northwest region.

The project is part of HCE’s Sustainable Solar initiative, which aims to increase access to renewable energy for low- and middle-income (LMI) members.

“We recognize that there are inequalities in access to renewable energy,” said Lisa Reed, HCE program manager, who hosted a Feb. 23 webinar on the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) project, Scaling up Solar for Under- Resourced” presented community initiative.

Reed’s webinar, moderated by CESA Project Manager Matt Ohloff, highlighted HCE’s efforts to develop a solar farm at Eagle County Regional Airport that will provide up to 3kW of solar power free to each member. Typical home solar systems are between 7 kW and 10 kW.

HCE targets 150 members located in prefab parks in the region. The Company is currently working to secure land permits to construct the project, which is expected to be operational by October to offset winter 2023-2024 heating costs.

CESA is leading an initiative to bring solar power to manufactured homes and other underserved communities. The organization’s Scaling up Solar for Under-Resourced Communities project is funded by the US Department of Energy to solve the challenge of ensuring that all Americans, regardless of income, benefit from solar technologies. In addition to prefabricated houses, the project also focuses on single-family houses and communal facilities.

Manufactured homes, often referred to as mobile homes, make up more than 6% of the country’s housing stock, according to a CESA study, and represent an even larger portion of housing for LMI families.

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Founded in 1939, HCE is a cooperative with 167 employees and serves more than 43,000 members with 58,000 meters and a peak demand of 250 MW. Its members include major ski resorts in the Aspen and Vail areas, as well as farms, ranches, and rural communities that provide resources to local residents, tourists, and the outdoor recreation industries.

The organization has a renewable energy goal of “100×30”, meaning that HCE aims to power its members with 100% renewable energy by 2030. HCE ended 2022 at 50% and has a goal of reaching 80% by the end of 2024.

The project is being developed in partnership with Eagle County as part of the Beneficial Electrification of Eagle County Homes (BEECH) program, which provides free energy improvements to eligible residents. CESA also provides financial support.

side choice

Eagle County Regional Airport was chosen as the site for the project after a previous site was rejected due to ownership and size concerns, Reed says. The site at the airport turned out to be perfect. The land was not amenable to expansion, and a solar array fits in with the airport’s renewable energy goals and federal land lease requirements. Reed also liked that the project will be visible from US Route 6, which passes by the airport.

“This location is difficult, but doable,” says Reed. “We are working with the FAA on a study to obtain federal land use approval for the lease.”

Though the deal isn’t finalized, Reed believes the project is a no-brainer because the airport has three other solar panels on buildings that won’t affect air traffic and other operations.

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system specifications

Following approval, HCE plans to hold a three-day “barn-raising” event in September to encourage hands-on community involvement in the installation of the solar system. The Company deploys the PowerField Energy PowerRack system that HCE has used on two other solar arrays in its footprint, a 208kWdc system built on HCE’s Glenwood Springs campus in 2019 and a 210kWdc system , which was built on its Gypsum campus in 2022. The PowerField shelving system is designed to be quick and easy to install.

Although details of the project are subject to change, Reed expects the solar array will stand on approximately 2.5 acres at the airport, including a 10-foot barrier between the array and the fence and an allotment of 4 feet between rows of panels .

HCE has partnered with the Colorado Energy Office to identify potential subscribers to the new system among the estimated 1,500 prefabricated homes in Eagle County. HCE will conduct outreach efforts to recruit 150 members.

The project offers each potential member around 3kW for 4,500kWh with a maximum cap of 5kW through a format similar to virtual net metering. Reed estimates that each participant in the program will save an average of about $500 per year.

Community solar projects like the one HCE is developing benefit Colorado residents, says Stephanie Insinna-Sahondo, director of the Weatherization Assistance Program at the Colorado Energy Office.

“We’re seeing interest from other developers in the state,” adds Insinna-Sahondo. “Community solar is also great for tenants.”

One of the challenges with prefab homes is that they are often not structurally strong enough for roof systems, and residents often do not have access to enough land for a ground-mounted system.

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HCE has partnered with the Colorado Energy Office and Eagle County for funding, but also has its own resources through its WeCARE program, which includes a 2% monthly fee chosen by members that will be added to their monthly bills in 2008 . The program’s goal is to raise $3 million to fund energy efficiency and conservation efforts and renewable energy generation.

HCE will also seek the 30% Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) made available by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

“Our goal for Sustainable Solar is to make renewable energy a reality for everyone in our community,” says Reed.

Brad Kramer is the editor-in-chief of Solar Builder.

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Tags: Clean Energy States Alliance, Colorado, Community Solar, Holy Cross Energy, Manufactured Homes, Mobile Homes, PowerField Energy