Thursday, September 29, 2011

Stirling Energy Systems Bankruptcy and the Rise of Solar Panel Hosting

In a funny way Stirling (and their developer, Tessera) was the inspiration for my startup, the Solar Panel Hosting Company. Here in Colorado's San Luis Valley Tessera had proposed an array of 8000 Stirling dishes. There was much concern about noise and about money and energy flowing out of the valley.

I live not too far away, off the grid at the foot of Electric Peak in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. With public land just steps away, I look out over what Interior Secretary Salazar called one of the "Crown Jewels of the American Landscape". A wetland in the high mountain desert, where 40 below is not unheard of. The combination of low temperatures, altitude, and few clouds makes the San Luis Valley one of the most efficient places for solar that can be found.

In December 2009, I stood in front of a hearing on the proposal. I stuck my neck out and said we were going to start a company to do responsible, distributed energy that was community owned, and asked people to join me. Some said they felt a feeling like electricity. (Others just thought I was crazy.) I proposed principles of responsible solar development, which can be found at

My background was in the Silicon Valley, really the opposite of the sparsely populated San Luis. The 21st century allows for some new possibilities, including distributed companies with people working everywhere. My little home became the "garage" where I started the company, and our first office was in a log building in the small town of Saguache.

We worked hard to help the solar gardens act get passed and built ... All of a sudden, people from everywhere were contacting us. People who thought theirs was the first or only project of its kind came together and realized they were a community of communities. We began to understand the role of the solar gardener, the combination organizer and project manager who brings all the pieces together.

Now, we are developing 17 solar gardens totalling 6 Megawatts to apply to XCEL's coming program and in municipal and rural electric areas. We have become an amazing team that has gone beyond the call of duty, working quite often without immediate compensation. Our headquarters is in Westminster, halfway between the energy hubs of Boulder and Denver.

California's SB843 proposes a solar gardens program on the grand scale of the Golden State. The steam powered monoliths and buzzing dishes proposed for the Mojave desert, inventions of the Victorian Era, have given way to abundant Silicon and the photoelectric effect for which Einstein won the Nobel Prize.

Solar gardens can sprout atop the rooftops and warehouses of the cities, on former landfills and mines, and the corners of farmers' irrigation circles. Solar gardeners are emerging all over California, and community organizations and municipalities are jumping into the effort. Investors at all levels have contacted us wanting to be involved.


Below is the story of SES's bankruptcy. I hope some SES's and Tessera's former employees who are moved to protect both the climate and the landscape apply to be part of our team and help us develop solar garden programs in Arizona and Texas.

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

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