Colorado became home to the first statewide community solar program after it passed the Community Solar Gardens Act in 2010.
About nine years later, the state is still among the largest community solar markets in the U.S. in installed capacity. But advocates say Colorado's program has moved from front-runner to straggler as more states establish innovative programs and pilots, many using lessons that came directly from Colorado.
“Compared to other programs in the country, at this point it's way behind,” said Paul Spencer, CEO of Clean Energy Collective, a community solar developer that installed Colorado’s first project. “It just hasn’t evolved with the times.”
Colorado’s current program allows for projects up to 2 megawatts, which must have more than 10 subscribers. Capacity is allotted through a request for proposal process, with investor-owned utilities (the state has just two: Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy) providing plans to the Public Utilities Commission on how much they are seeking to acquire. The PUC has the final say on establishing annual capacity and settled on an annual total between 30 and 40 megawatts through 2019.
Colorado is the only state that uses an RFP structure for community solar, and so far, it’s cut both ways. The state installed 20 megawatts of community solar last year, bringing its total installed base to about 55 megawatts, according to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.
That places Colorado fourth in the country for cumulative capacity, but leaders such as Minnesota — with 580 megawatts in place — have moved much faster.
A bill in Colorado's legislature, the Community Solar Gardens Modernization Act or HB 19-1003, would make a few modifications to the program if it succeeds. Stakeholders say that’s needed progress, but they also argue it’s not enough.