Update from Clean Energy Action

Clean Energy Action based nearby in Colorado has long advocated for transition planning and assistance for coal-dependent workers and their communities. This year the Colorado State Legislature passed HB19-1314 (“Just Transition from Coal Act”) to begin addressing this issue in our state, but the planning and implementation for HB19-1314 will likely take several years at least.

In early 2018, Clean Energy Action learned that Solar United Neighbors or “SUN,” a solar co-op buying non-profit, would be coming to Colorado. CEA recognized the opportunity and worked to get SUN to include the very coal-dependent communities of Hayden and Craig in their efforts -and they have done just that, making NW Colorado some of the first communities served by SUN Colorado. A story from the Steamboat Pilot describing SUN’s early work in NW Colorado can be found here.

Solar United Neighbor’s Colorado Program Director Bryce Carter summarized the benefits of the solar training this way in the Steamboat Pilot story –  “I don’t think it’s an option between coal and solar,” Carter said. “As we look at coal big picture, the future of coal is a challenging one. One way or another, I think the question is how do you become a more resilient community and with or without coal industry, there’s still a need for energy…”

What seems like a looong time ago (around 2006…), Clean Energy Action recognized that a powerful way to address climate change was to work to keep the coal owned by the federal government on our behalf “in the ground.”

The sadly misnamed federal coal “leasing” (of course, the coal is not leased, it is mined and then turned into carbon dioxide and never comes back on any time scale that matters) program is run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Clean Energy Action began submitting detailed comments and recruiting other environmental groups to engage in these federal BLM coal “leasing” decisions over a decade ago. After several years of work, many other groups began engaging and now Clean Energy Action was just one of 50 groups that signed on to a recent letter opposing the 15-day comment period given by the BLM to rescind a moratorium on coal leasing established by the Obama administration. You can read the comment letter here and get more background information on the Trump administration proposal from the Columbia Law School’s climate law website here.

St. Louis-based coal companies Peabody Energy and Arch Coal plan to combine their assets in Wyoming and Colorado under a joint venture. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Former surface mines in Virginia can be used for solar development, which will bring jobs to the area, an advocate writes. (Roanoke Times)

Tallassee, Alabama, may turn a former municipal airport into a solar farm. (Tallassee Tribune)

The costs of the Affordable Clean Energy plan could exceed benefits by up to $980 million a year. (E&E News, subscription)

Yampa Valley Solar Co-op seeks to power up solar for homes and small businesses

News | March 3, 2019

Eleanor C. Hasenbeck
Eleanor C. Hasenbeck


Solar United Neighbors is launching a solar co-op in the Yampa Valley in an effort to help residents purchase and install solar panels at a lower cost than the market rate.

Editor’s note: This story was corrected at 12:45 p.m. Monday to state that the non-profit is called Solar United Neighbors. 

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There’s power in numbers, and a nonprofit wants to use that power to bring cheaper solar energy to the Yampa Valley by charging up a solar cooperative.

Solar United Neighbors, a nonprofit that has helped kick start solar cooperatives around the nation, is working to launch two solar co-ops in Colorado — Fort Collins and the Yampa Valley. At a glance

Solar United, backed by an anonymous donor, will also sponsor up to four Routt or Moffat County residents to attend two courses intended to launch a career in solar installation. Those four people will receive a PV Solar Associate Certificate by completing a five-day, entry-level solar design and installation training in Paonia, a more advanced online course exploring the fundamentals of battery-based systems and the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners’ exam.

“We’re excited to tie this straight into the co-op, so the folks that get this training can actually then partner with the installers, go on site, get that experience as well and have it be a well-rounded experience that can hopefully lead them to actually be hired by those companies,” Carter said.

Any Routt or Moffat County individual or company interested in starting a career or expanding into solar installation is invited to apply. The application deadline is March 15.

For more information, contact bcarter@solarunitedneighbors.org or visit http://www.solarunitedneighbors.org/

“What we do is we basically help facilitate these bulk purchases through the means of solar co-ops,” said Solar United Colorado Program Director Bryce Carter.

Essentially, a group of homeowners and small business owners band together to purchase solar panels and installation services in bulk, which results in a discounted price for individual co-op members. Once about 20 people are interested, Solar United assembles a request for proposals from installers, then co-op members select an installer and move forward with putting up the panels.

Though Solar United most frequently facilitates rooftop or ground-mount solar panel installs for co-ops, Carter said the organization is open to whatever installers are able to do. For communities, too, solar power addresses different energy needs.

“When we look at solar, it’s creating their own independent means of creating independent generation on their rooftop,” Carter said. “Especially for ranchers, when you’re looking at the need to go stretch out wires that might go out for thousands of feet, if not miles, it sometimes gets to be more cost effective to have solar panels and maybe a small battery to have lights or pumps or whatever else it might be.”

The first step in creating the co-op, Carter said, is attending an info session, in which participants will learn about the co-op process and solar power, technology and financing installation. Those interested can join the co-op at an info session.

Sessions will be held in the following locations:

  • Steamboat Springs: 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 13 at Library Hall in Bud Werner Memorial Library
  • Hayden from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Thursday, March 14 at Wild Goose Coffee at the Granary
  • Craig from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 14 at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion

There is no commitment to purchase until after an installer is selected and conducts site visits.

These site visits, the final step before installation, could come as soon as May 2019, Carter said.

The organization, with the support of an anonymous donor, will also sponsor up to four Routt or Moffat County residents to attend two courses intended to launch a career in solar installation. Carter said this opportunity aims to provide a learning opportunity both in training and in shadowing on-site installations for co-op members to create sustainable jobs in the community.

“Really this is about economic development when it comes to creating opportunities, whoever it is, to build up infrastructure and keep energy dollar local, but also creating jobs in the process,” Carter said.

He added that putting more solar power on the grid — and the job market — will build a more resilient community in the Yampa Valley.

Routt County relies on coal, both to turn on the lights and to power the economy. Six of Routt County’s top 10 taxpayers are involved in energy production, transmission and distribution largely related to coal dug up at Twentymile Mine and burned at Hayden Station.

Xcel Energy, the majority owner of Hayden Station, recently announced that the company plans to provide carbon-neutral electricity by 2050.

Peabody Energy, the company that owns Twentymile, was Routt County’s largest taxpayer in tax year 2014. By 2017, Peabody was the fourth largest. The company’s November 2018 evaluation was less than half of what it was in 2014, according to Routt County Assessor Gary Peterson.

“I don’t think it’s an option between coal and solar,” Carter said. “As we look at coal big picture, the future of coal is a challenging one. One way or another, I think the question is how do you become a more resilient community and with or without coal industry, there’s still a need for energy. … All in all, coal or not, I think this is a great economic opportunity and it’s also a step in the way of building a more resilient community.”

For more information visit http://www.solarunitedneighbors.org/colorado/go-solar-in-a-colorado-co-op/yampa-valley-solar-co-op.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

Meet the newest members of Colorado’s solar workforce

By Ben Delman on May 17, 2019

Nearly 7,000 Coloradans work in the solar industry, ranking us eighth in the nation. Solar United Neighbors, through the Yampa Valley Solar Co-op, is helping to add more. We’ve partnered with Solar Energy International (SEI) to provide free hands-on solar installer training to four Routt and Moffat County residents.

The trainees bring a diverse array of skills and backgrounds to their training.

Colt Mortensen as he works on a Russian sweat lodge in Idaho.

Craig resident Colt Mortensen has worked for more than 30 years for BLM and the Forest Service as a wildland firefighter. “I’m looking to do something that not only will help people but will help the environment as I approach retirement,” Mortensen said. Though Mortensen isn’t quite ready to retire just yet. He hopes to start his own solar business in the Yampa Valley within the next six years.

Bethani Massey with her two daughters.

Bethani Massey is a new-comer to the area. She “was instantly taken by its beauty and serenity”. Massey currently works at a restaurant in Steamboat Springs. She is excited to join the solar industry to provide a good, steady income for her and her daughters. “I have wanted to pursue solar training and a career in renewable energy for years but haven’t been able to make it happen.” Massey said.

Trainees spent a week in Paonia, Colorado training at SEI’s headquarters. They completed online courses and exams well.

Matt with his wife Sydnie and children Kaydance, Kolbie, and Levi.

Some of the trainees bring related skills to their solar training. Matt Larson of Oak Creek has already spent time on rooftops, working as a satellite installer. “I believe solar power would benefit the Yampa Valley tremendously and help to preserve our irreplaceable environment,” Larson said.

Now that their training has completed, the four participants will support educational and partnership outreach for the Yampa Valley Solar Co-op into the early fall as part of their on-going solar training. They will shadow the solar co-op’s chosen installer as solar goes up on Yampa Valley homes.

Gene Leck-DeLeon.

Gene Leck-DeLeon was born in Craig and grew up in Hayden. He’s returned to the area after 15 years on the East Coast and Texas.

“I think solar power would greatly benefit the Yampa Valley, even more so now than ever before,” Leck-DeLeon said. “Economically, solar design and installation could provide more work in the area, and it would work toward maintaining the environment that we live in.”

The Yampa Valley Solar Co-op is open to homes and businesses in Routt and Moffat Counties through July 1. The co-op is free to join and joining isn’t a commitment to purchase panels. If you would like to join, you can sign up at the co-op’s webpage.

“This program has given me real hope and I am so grateful,” Massey said.Posted in: ColoradoEnergy democracySolar co-opSolar United Neighbors