A Basalt entrepreneur who dreams of revolutionizing the alternative-energy business saw the light in 2010.

Paul Spencer, the founder and president of Clean Energy Collective (CEC), is confident that his plan to bring solar power to the masses can work after successfully building a model project in the midvalley late last year. CEC completed the Mid-Valley Solar Array in August. The small project, which Spencer calls a solar garden rather than a solar farm, is the first community-owned clean energy facility of its type in the country.

“I would say, all-in-all, it was a great pilot project,” Spencer said. “There’s been no backlash, that we’ve heard.”

CEC sold the facility to interested customers of Holy Cross Energy in the Roaring Fork Valley and Interstate 70 corridor. The members actually bought solar panels in the facility rather than the power the garden produces. The community-ownership is what makes it unique. Typically, an alternative energy project — wind, hydro or solar — sells the power generated directly to the utility company or to its customers.

Some other utility companies in Colorado are exploring models similar to CEC’s, but none have implemented anything like the community-owned, midvalley array, said Del Worley, CEO of Holy Cross Energy. “In this case, the customer really does own their panel,” he said.

Through an arrangement with Holy Cross, the members get credit for their portion of the electricity produced, which is purchased by the utility company and distributed to its customers.

The midvalley array was built less than one mile downvalley from El Jebel, near the namesake lake in Blue Lake subdivision. The site was leased to CEC long-term by Mid-Valley Metropolitan District, a water and sanitation district. The array is a 77.7 kilowatt project that features 338 solar panels on one-third of an acre. Nineteen homeowners in the region bought into the project. The average purchase was between eight and nine panels, or just under two kilowatts. The largest purchase was 87 panels.

“It’s clean, green and smart,” said Glenn Sliva, an engineer who purchased 15 panels for his cabin at the upper end of Ruedi Reservoir, near Meredith. Sliva said he averaged his electricity use over the last three years to determine he needed to make an investment that would offset use of about 3,200 watt hours per year.

source: aspentimes