By Hal Walter
In their purest sense, farms are big solar collectors, gathering sunlight and converting this energy into food.
Now one Colorado Springs farm is harnessing solar power to produce another crop — electricity.
In the past year a community solar garden has taken root at Venetucci Farm, possibly the nation’s largest urban farm. The 190-acre operation set aside more than 2 acres to the project, which allows energy consumers to participate in the solar program through Colorado Springs Utilities.
According to David Amster-Olszewski, president of Sunshare, the solar garden at Venetucci comprises 2,500 panels, supplying 300 individual households and six schools with solar power. The garden is on track to produce more than 1 million kilowatt hours in 2012.
The program allows utility customers to power their homes with solar without having to purchase and install expensive equipment at their homes. Consumers can merely lease the panels from Sunshare and within minutes have the satisfaction that they are partially powering their home with electricity from the sun.
“What we’re able to do is sign people up in about 10 minutes,” says Amster-Olszewski.
A customer can lease two panels for 20 years at the price of $1,100, including maintenance fees. Typically this would supply about 10 percent of a household’s energy needs. On average, Amster-Olszewski says this would save households about $2,000 in energy costs over the 20-year lease.
In addition, Amster-Olszewski says there are tax incentives for participating in the solar program, and the Sunshare office handles the paperwork for this as well. The tax benefit works out to be about $350 per panel, he says.
Venetucci manager Patrick Hamilton says the land donated for the solar garden was not well-suited for agricultural purposes, and that a sustainable energy project makes sense for the farm.
“It fits into the community aspect and that’s what this farm is all about,” Hamilton says. “It also fits into our educational programs. People can learn about farming and sustainable energy as well.”
Another benefit for Ventucci Farm is that it receives electricity in exchange for the use of the land for the solar garden.
“Over 50 years the value of that energy should be about $1 million,” says Sunshare’s Amster-Olszewski.
While all the panels at Venetucci were sold out before the garden even went online, Sunshare is working on another solar garden project just 2 miles east at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church. For more information contact Sunshare at 800.793.0786.