Solar co-op backed by Steamboat, Routt County has nearly 100 members

Similar effort in 2019 got 122 members, but only 14 of them installed solar

David Dietelbach, with AP Alteranative, installs solar panels at the Steamboat Springs Waste Water Treatment plant.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Nearly 100 people in Northwest Colorado have signed on to a solar co-op that received funding from local governments in an effort to further goals outlined in the Routt County Climate Action Plan.

Steamboat Springs and Routt County each gave $10,000 toward the Colorado arm of the group United Solar Neighbors, a nonprofit that tries to gather interested homeowners together to increase bargaining power when trying to install solar.

When the group received funding from Routt County Commissioners in April, the goal was to get at least 100 members, with at least 30 of them actually purchasing solar technology for their home. The group’s Colorado program director Bryce Carter said they are close to achieving the first part of that.

“We’re excited that we’ve been able to launch and provide information sessions over the last couple months,” Carter said. “We’re at 98 members from the area that have signed up and are looking at going solar.”

The Northwest Colorado Solar Co-op is open to people in Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. Carter said he expected membership to exceed 100 before the deadline passes on Sept. 2, adding that there is another information session scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 22.

This isn’t the first time United Solar Neighbors has set up a co-op locally. In 2019, the nonprofit helped form the Yampa Valley Solar Co-op that was able to garner 122 members, though only 14 of them ultimately purchased solar for their home.

Carter said the group has already chosen an installer for this rendition, and one member has signed a contract to go solar.

“Usually for these programs, 20-30% of people move forward,” Carter said. “Sometimes it’s higher, sometimes it’s lower.”

The co-op’s purpose is to gather potential buyers together, and then use that collective buying power to bid out to multiple installers in an effort to make solar more affordable.

While Carter declined to share any details about the bid the group has received or how much getting solar would cost, he said it is more affordable than it was five to 10 years ago. Members also have access to financing through the Colorado Clean Energy Fund and could be eligible for solar tax credits that Congress just extended for 10 years in the Inflation Reduction Act.

Routt County Environmental Health Director Scott Cowman said efforts like this specifically address the first strategy in the county’s climate action plan, which is to “increase adoption of renewable or other clean energy and fuel sources.”

To get more people on board, the plan says the county should work to reduce barriers to renewables and create incentive programs to increase participation. Cowman said this does both.

“I think (the co-op) kind of creates a good avenue for people to get the information that they need in order to make a decision,” Cowman said. “They can go and do all the research themselves, but this kind of makes it easier and more accessible.”

The co-op doesn’t last forever, rather it ends when this round of projects are completed. Carter said based on the level of demand they are seeing, they might try to launch another co-op locally next year as well.

“We are seeing a lot of demand,” he said.

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