Udall’s SUN Act would extend tax credits to community ‘solar farms’

Two Colorado companies played a pivotal role in getting Sen. Mark Udall to craft legislation aimed at offering the same federal tax credits individual homeowners receive for installing solar panels to community collectives to build so-called “solar farms.”

Sen. Mark Udall (DenverJeffrey)
Sen. Mark Udall (DenverJeffrey)

Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy, the state’s third largest rural electric co-op, and Carbondale-based Clean Energy Collective worked with Udall to come up with the SUN (Solar Uniting Neighborhoods) Act, which will extend the same 30-percent tax credit to community solar farms.

Groups of individuals or homeowner associations would be able to locate utility-scale solar power facilities on a piece of common ground in collaboration with local utilities that would distribute the power and credit owners based on their percentage of investment in the solar farm.

“In collaboration with Clean Energy Collective we are looking at an incredible opportunity to exponentially increase our installed capacity of renewable energy generation through the incorporation of large, utility-scale community system installations,” Casey said on press conference with reporters Wednesday.

Paul Spencer of Clean Energy Collective predicted a 67 percent increase in solar installation statewide over the next five years, or 80 megawatts of new solar generation based on project demand for community collective-style facilities.

Spencer said individual home, apartment or condo owners – or even renters – could invest as little as $500 in a co-owned solar farm and then be credited on their monthly power bill based on their percentage of ownership.

Currently, a major barrier to solar installation is the $10,000 to $15,000 cost of installing a home photovoltaic (PV) system – offset somewhat by the 30-percent credit, but still a significant expense.

“These projects have the potential to drastically increase the adoption of clean energy nationwide, but the tax code hasn’t kept up,” Udall said. “You can get a 30-percent tax credit for putting a solar panel on your house, but not for investing in a solar farm.”

Udall said he’ll either piggyback the bill with climate-change legislation being crafted in the Senate, or add it as an amendment to another energy or tax bill this session.

In the Colorado state House, Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, has introduced a bill that would require the Public Utilities Commission to rewrite rules to direct investor-owned utilities such as Xcel Energy to offer rebates for community solar gardens.

HB 1342 (pdf) is set for further House debate March 19.

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