City asking YVEA for waiver to net-metering cap

The new fire station to be constructed at 10th Street in downtown Steamboat Springs, shown here in architectural drawings, is proposed to have a solar array on the roof.
CIty of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy photo

Steamboat Springs Deputy City Manager Tom Leeson said Wednesday, Dec. 21, the city will send a letter to Yampa Valley Electric Association co-op officials asking for a waiver to the recently decreased net-metering capacity that impacts solar arrays planned for the new City Hall and Fire Station complex.

“We are writing a letter to them requesting that waiver because we currently are in the design phase, and we are so close,” Leeson said.

During the November YVEA board meeting, the co-op board voted to reduce the maximum allowable size for residential and commercial net-metering for renewable energy systems connected to the local grid. Essentially, that reduces the level of renewable energy that can be produced per meter and complicates the economic viability of large solar installations.

Leeson said the city has received approximately $15,000 in grant funds from nonprofit Clean Energy Group in Vermont through the city’s consultant McKinstry toward completion of a current solar feasibility study for powering the two buildings. The city will supply some $2,500 toward the study cost, which will include feasibility and analysis of battery storage, Leeson said.

Clean Energy Group, according the nonprofit’s website, “fills a critical resource gap by advancing new energy initiatives and serving as a trusted source of technical expertise and independent analysis in support of communities, nonprofit advocates and government leaders working on the frontlines of climate change and the clean energy transition.”

Leeson said the fire department is very interested in the battery option to help with resiliency and redundant energy sources.

Although city officials hope to offset as much of the energy use as possible in the electrically heated buildings at 10th Street and Lincoln Avenue, the size of the proposed roofs is another limiting factor. Preliminary estimates by the consultants showed the roofs could support solar installations that would offset approximately 18% of the City Hall electricity use and approximately 30% of the Fire Station use. So, the city is looking at other options such as possible solar panels on top of parking lot coverings, adding battery storage or buying into a future solar garden in another location.

“They (the consultants) are looking at what we have for space and energy needs of the buildings, and they will run that analysis,” Leeson said.

The solar study is expected to be completed by January or February.

Leeson said the recent changes to net-metering capacity by YVEA does impact the project planning. The city could add additional meters for the solar installations to reach the capacity needed, but that adds to the project installation and monthly operational costs.

“It certainly places some limitations in terms of alternative energy sources, no doubt about it,” Leeson said.

YVEA policies previously allowed net-metering for up to 120% of the member’s previous year kilowatt-hour usage per service location with a maximum instantaneous output of 25 kilowatts for residential installs and 150 kilowatts for commercial. With the changes, that net-metering maximum size per meter is reduced by 60% for residential to 10 kilowatts and reduced by approximately 83% to 25 kilowatts for commercial. The updated policy also removes the 120% allowance.

“We knew we would be somewhat limited based on our location,” Leeson said. “It just forces us to have to look at some other options and continue to look at alternative locations for panels or buying into other sources to continue to try to use alternative energy sources. We are just going to look at all our options particularly with going fully electric.”

The updated YVEA policy starts Jan. 1. New net-metering applications can be submitted by Dec. 31 under the previous higher caps if constructed and producing power by the end of 2023. The current City Hall is set for demolition in May 2023 starting with asbestos mitigation, and construction will continue through October 2024, according to the project timeline.

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