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Community Reacts To Solar Farm: 'Hey, I'm Not Polluting'

By Dillon Thomas

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – As Colorado's population continued to skyrocket in 2017, the City of Fort Collins formed a plan to provide clean energy to residents who normally would not have access to the modern technology.

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With townhomes and apartment complexes becoming more popular, and with many homes covered by trees in the northern portion of the city, access to install solar panels for power on Fort Collins residences has become increasingly more difficult.

In order to provide those residents with the opportunity to own solar panels, while not putting them on their residences, the City of Fort Collins has invested in "community solar farms."

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"It is Colorado. Nobody wants dirty air in Colorado," said Nick Michell, a Fort Collins resident who bought in to the concept. "We are all about being outdoors."

Community solar farms are an idea that could change the way many residents across Fort Collins, and Northern Colorado, utilize energy.

By investing with an up-front purchase of panels, residents who cannot install panels on their homes are able to have their newly purchased devices installed in the community solar farm.

The first community solar farm in Fort Collins was built along Mulberry St. in Fort Collins in a brownfield. A brownfield is a piece of property, which Fort Collins owned, that is deemed unusable for commercial or residential human use for a variety of reasons.

Fort Collins allowed Clean Energy Collective to build the community solar farm on their brownfield, in return that the absorbed solar energy be returned to the city's power grid.

Then, the 200 residents who invested in the first community solar farm are given a credit to their energy bill at their home, based on the percentage of the farm in which they invested in.

"I think people really like the idea of clean energy," Michell said.

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Scott denning, one of the 200 who invested in the first community solar farm, said he bought in to the program because he wanted to have clean energy, but his home was covered by trees.

"It is too shady where I live," Denning told CBS4's Dillon Thomas.  "As soon as I found out about this community solar, I thought this [was] perfect for me."

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According to Fort Collins city officials, most residents have seen up-to two thirds of their utility bill erased each month, as a result of their investment.

"It makes you feel good," Michell said. "Like, hey, I'm not polluting. I get a credit every month on my bill. [It says] here is how much money you generated in solar power."

For the first community solar farm, which quickly sold out, investors told CBS4 they paid upwards of $750 per panel.

Depending on how many panels they purchased, a return on an investment could take nearly a decade. However, everyone CBS4 spoke with said the investment was worthwhile.

"For many people, it is an emotional decision they are making," said John Phelan, Fort Collins City Energy Services Manager. "It really makes them feel good, they are really happy and engaged."

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Phelan said solar currently amounts to only one percent of the city's power generation. However, a second investment into a much-larger community solar farm in 2018 could raise that number closer to five percent.

Although more than 60 percent of the city's power still comes from coal, each additional solar community farm could drastically cut that number.

The new community solar farm, which could serve an additional 1,000 residents, is expected to sell out quickly as well. The city planned to build the second phase of the project at the Rawhide Energy Station north of city limits.

Fort Collins is also expected to create a solar community farm for low-income residents, that would provide them a leasing opportunity to the solar panels, instead of the costly up-front investment others have purchased.

"It just shows the depth of community support for clean energy," Phelan said.

Those who beat out others to be part of the first phase of the program said they were overwhelmingly pleased with the process thus far. They hoped their testimonials would encourage others to participate in phase two, and the low-income solar community farm.

"This is terrific. This is the way to go. This is the future," Michell said.

Dillon Thomas is a reporter at CBS4 and a Colorado native. He believes everyone has a story, and would love to share yours! You can find more of his stories by following him on Twitter, @DillonMThomas.

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