Our solar panels!

I’ve been a gardener for almost 20 years, but this year, I got to add a different type of gardening to my repertoire – solar gardening! Colorado Springs approved permits for four community solar gardens in 2011, and we got on board with the first one, SunShare’s solar garden at Venetucci Farm. This is a perfect place for a solar garden. We get well over 300 days of sun each year, and the sun is pretty darn strong at this altitude.

Community solar gardens are a really cool idea. People can lease (or, in some cases, buy) solar panels in a solar garden and the electricity generated by their panels is credited to their utility bills. This is ideal for people who don’t have good roof placement for panels, or even for those who do but who are wary of the huge upfront cost of installation – which often involves needing to put on a new roof. The latter was our situation. Our roof is actually perfectly placed and sized for solar panels, but it would definitely need replaced first. Perhaps by the time our lease runs out on our panels (twenty years) we’ll have upgraded the roof and may want to consider installing our own panels.

Based on estimates provided for panel output, we decided to lease fourteen panels, figuring they would cover most of our electric use (SunShare estimated that sixteen panels would’ve covered us 100%). The 2500-panel garden was up and fully operational as of the beginning of this year, and to date, we’ve gotten three utility bills with a solar credit applied. The panels have been producing more electricity than SunShare initially estimated, so our fourteen panels have already covered more of our electric use than we expected. This is particularly impressive as January and February are lower productivity months because of the shorter days and lower angle of the sun’s path.

So here is how it has worked out for us on our first three bills with solar credits:
February 2012 – We used 391 kWh, for a total electric-use bill of $38.01. Our panels generated about 385 kWh (in the month of January 2012) for which we were credited $0.09/kWh – a total of $34.67.

March 2012 – We used 365 kWh, giving us an electric-use bill of $35.48. Our panels generated 357 kWh (in the short month of February 2012) for which we were credited $32.15.

April 2012 – This is where it starts to get really cool. We used 333 kWh, for an electric-use bill of $32.37. Our panels generated about 527 kWh (in the month of March 2012 – whooo hoo!) for which we were credited $47.43. So when our panels generate more electricity than we use, we still get the total amount of $0.09/kWh credited to our overall utility bill. Now next winter, we will see a few months where the panels generate less electricity than we use, but I think we’ll still end up ahead of the game.

I never thought I would be so eager each month to get my utility bill! To learn more about SunShare, see their web site at