GRID's first community solar build!

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May 30, 2015

On a hot afternoon in late May, Clarence and Roberta Gessell stood in a gravel lot alongside several other families and signed their names to the back of a solar panel. This was the first of six panels on a 29kW Community Solar array that would soon be sending power to the Grand Valley Power grid, and producing credits on the Gessell’s electricity bill. In a new and groundbreaking partnership, GRID Alternatives and Grand Valley Power (GVP) teamed up this year for nation’s first community solar array dedicated exclusively to low-income customers.

“This model makes sense. We can make clean energy available to folks who have never had access to it. Everybody benefits. By leveraging GRID Alternatives’ expertise in solar development, we can successfully serve some of our most vulnerable members,” stated Tom Walch, General Manager of GVP.

The project has generated interest from utilities and policy-makers across the country, and Grand Valley Power and GRID Alternatives were invited by United States Congressman Jared Polis to brief a congressional working group on Innovation in Alternatives Energies on May 6. 

Over 150 volunteers and job trainees participated in the project from start to finish. Cynthia Silverthorn, a market researcher for NRG Energy, travelled all the way from Dallas, Texas to participate in the culminating Community Solarthon event on May 29-30.

She told a news reporter: “It's made me even more excited since I've been here, and putting my hands on it – to want to go out and say – ‘look, this can be done, let's go out and do it, come on people let's jump on board.’”

Other participants included volunteers from sponsors SunEdison, Housing Resources of Western Colorado, Alpine Bank, NREL and Atlasta Solar; as well as job trainees from several local job training organizations. Equipment for the project was donated by SunEdison, Enphase Energy, IronRidge, Whitewater Building Materials and Pacific Steel and Recycling.

Within days of the event, the array was turned on and bringing benefits to the families. Each of the eight participating families will see a utility bill reduction of around 50 percent.

“We looked into getting solar before but it was so out of our reach it wasn’t even funny,” said client Herb Sanders, who works as a dishwasher at Safeway instead of retiring after he lost his two businesses in the aftermath of 9/11. “This will help us a great deal.”

The families contributed 16 hours of sweat equity to support the project’s development, and will pay a small per kilowatt hour fee to help support future projects. Their contracts are renewed every four years based on need, making room for other families to benefit as space becomes available.

Thanks to everyone who came out and helped us with this groundbreaking project! We’re looking forward to more to come.