Why a solar garden isn’t as satisfying as rooftop solar

Our Aurora, Colo. house on which we installed a 5.5 kW solar system in 2010, and sold in late 2015, is still sporting a clean, sharp and working solar system eight years later. It is saving the current house owners about $1,000 every year.

editor's blog logoI had solar for nearly six years on a house in Aurora, Colo. that I lived in with my family. Life happened — divorce, etc. — and I no longer have the house, or the solar.

A year ago, I moved into a so-called “cohousing” community, Highline Crossing Cohousing in Littleton, Colo. I moved here because cohousing is more community based than average HOAs/neighborhoods. I wanted more community, less suburban isolation and alienation.

Socially speaking, moving to Highline Crossing has been a good decision — for both me and my two daughters, who have friends here now. However, I knew that I would never have a stand-alone house here — I live in a two-story, connected townhome — and that this would complicate things for me in terms of getting solar.

Frankly, I’ve realized I “need” solar because I truly view it as part of my identity.

I didn’t waste time on my quest to get solar at Highline Crossing. I’ve already been working for six months on a Solar Task Force I started here in December. It’s been a lot of work, and has sometimes been frustrating — like elsewhere, myths/misinformation/lack of knowledge about solar are widespread here :-(.

As I’ve been pushing to get Highline to go solar, Xcel Energy, my utility, has been pushing an ad about so-called “solar garden” opportunities for customers across my Facebook feed. A “solar garden” is essentially a giant solar farm/installation miles and miles away from where you live that allows you to buy shares in solar field whose panels indirectly cover the amount of electricity you consume.

Xcel Energy ad for a solar garden option in my Facebook feed.

I am definitely a supporter of solar gardens because they allow even renters to get in on solar: albeit INdirectly.

It is the “INdirectly” part of the solar garden equation that I do not like. Not one bit.

If I bought a “patch” of solar panels in a distant solar garden, I would never see the panels that are INdirectly “powering” my townhome here in Littleton, Colo. That robs me of the sense that I am doing something to be more power independent AND doing something directly good — that I can see — for the environment. Essentially, a solar garden feels totally “out of sight, out of mind” to me and in a negative way.

I am already paying three cents more per kWh (15 cents vs. 12 cents) to Xcel for so-called Windsource electricity to cover 100 percent of my electricity use in my townhome. Unfortunately, I cannot do this for my all-electric Chevy Bolt because my garage is NOT attached to my town home and its electricity use is monitored by a single community garages utility meter linked to a community-wide electricity bill.

I’ve been part of Xcel Windsource for 100 percent of my electricity for three years. I’m glad it is an option.

However, it is profoundly LESS satisfying to me than having solar panels right there, on my roof, that I know are creating electricity locally that I, and my neighbors, are actually using. I dislike the feeling that the actual electrons I am using are being produced by perhaps 100 percent coal, 100 percent of the time, day and night — if I am near a coal plant, and far away from wind turbines, or solar gardens.

I don’t want to help coal even one bit!

So, I could give up pushing for solar at Highline Crossing and “go solar” via Xcel’s Solar Gardens. It would save me time, and potentially a lot of frustration and disappointment. Despite the clear savings solar brings, especially in terms of offsetting fuel costs when you replace a gas car with an EV, I know there are several people here in this community of about 40 households who are going to line up against solar 🙁

So, why don’t I just save myself the trouble, frustration, disappointment and just give up trying to persuade my neighbors to have our community go solar and simply buy a share in an Xcel Solar Garden?

For me, it is so unbelievably UNsatisfying to not be able to see the solar change that I am bringing, not be able to see the panels that are producing my electricity, for my townhome and my electric car. It is equally unsatisfying to know that with my current Xcel Windsource, I have no control over what Xcel actually does with my extra money.

Xcel gets to make decisions about how to use the extra money I am paying them — and there is NO accountability. No one audits/certifies Xcel Windsource to make sure Xcel is actually investing more in wind.

Xcel likes to cast itself as a “progressive” utility, and, somewhat sadly, compared to many utilities, it is. Xcel Colorado’s current 46 percent coal, 26 percent renewables and 28 percent natural gas produced electricity grid mix is profoundly dissatisfying for me. Two-thirds of my electricity is still NOT being produced by renewables, but by fossil fuels, with allegedly “clean burning” natural gas a MAJOR contributor to climate change via methane.

In my view, Xcel is dragging its feet on renewables. Xcel only cares about “the bottom line” and if burning coal longer saves them money on the front end — even though it IS costing humanity trillions of dollars worth of health and environmental damage on the back end — Xcel will continue to lolly-gag along with coal, and natural gas.

We need 100 percent renewables by 2030-2040 as Stanford Economist Mark Jacobsen insists!

At 51 years old, I will likely be dead by the time Xcel hits 100 percent renewable energy generated electricity in the 2050s. That’s just too long a time for me, and, frankly, ALSO too long for the generations of human beings who come after I/we are all dead.

4000 S. Atchison Way is the first place I managed to get solar installed. Now, I’m hoping to do the same in the Cohousing Community in which I now live, Highline Crossing Cohousing in Littleton, Colo.

Climate change is not a “future” problem, it is a SERIOUS CURRENT problem that is already wreaking substantial havoc on all of the living beings and ecosystems here on earth.

I take this issue — clearly the most pressing issue facing humanity (with the possible exception of overpopulation — extremely seriously. And that means I want to know that I, myself, am doing something significant and doing so directly to combat climate change and the dirty legacy that far too many of us seem content to leave to our kids, grandkids, and their grandkids, to.

That means having solar panels on my community building’s rooftop and my rooftop, not paying for unseen solar panels somewhere else.