The Denver Housing Authority is getting into the solar gardening business. They are building a field of solar panels, at a remote location, that creates energy for low-income families.
The DHA is the first housing authority in the country to do this.
The first seeds were planted Friday. It's bolts and brackets that hold these mechanical crops together, and the yield is pure energy. Ten acres of solar panels are going up near Watkins, east of the Denver International Airport.
This garden is located on the SolarTAC property. That facility does research and development for the solar industry and is technically in the city of Aurora.
Volunteers from the solar energy business community and several members of the Denver Housing Authority spent Friday installing the first solar panels in the garden.
Similar to other community solar gardens already in existence, but what’s different about this power farm, is that it’s the first in the country owned and operated by a housing authority, with 100 percent benefit to low-income families.
“This all happens through net metering or virtual net metering. All the energy goes into the utility grid, and then we connect the meters through Excel Energy’s Community Solar Rewards Program, so it’s all virtual metering,” said Chris Jedd, Energy Manager at the Denver Housing Authority.
That means Excel gives the DHA credit for the energy it adds to the grid. That can be used to offset costs at buildings the DHA pays the utilities on, and also allows individual families to benefit as well.
“They’ll receive a credit on their energy bill every month, so there’s residents in Globeville and other of our properties that will receive direct financial benefit from this,” said Jedd.
This garden will create 2 megawatts of energy. The DHA estimates a 20 percent savings on energy bills and said that provides for about 500 to 700 homes.
"At the end of the month, that means more money in their pockets for other things that they need to do, whether it's childcare, healthcare, or even just getting to have a night out with dinner," said the Executive Director of DHA, Ismael Guerrero.
The DHA said there are numerous benefits to having an off-site solar garden.
With all the panels in one spot, that means fewer visits to rooftops for maintenance crews. Any issues that come up with the panels can be handled right there at the solar garden.
The panels will also be able to rotate from east to west, to follow the track of the sun. Rooftop panels are mostly stationary, and can’t take full advantage of all sun angles.
Guerrero said that residents in the Denver Housing Authority are interested in participating in clean energy programs, but couldn’t afford to do that, until now.
“And now they now that they’re part of the solution through this solar garden in helping to reduce our carbon footprint," said Guerrero.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates this project to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 54 thousand tons over 20 years. That’s equivalent to planting 1.2 million trees or taking more than 10 thousand passenger vehicles off the road.