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

Solar gardens | Boulder County Business Report

"NEDERLAND - Arapaho Ranch may host the first solar garden "plot" in Boulder County."

"The ranch near Nederland High School may host a one-acre "plot" for a large bank of solar panels to generate two megawatts of electricity for a subscriber group of electricity customers, said Greg Ching, a solar garden advocate who lives in Nederland, and the chief sustainability officer of The Solar Gardens Institute advocacy group in Westminster."

"I'm very interested in helping people in my community get access to solar," Ching said. "Solar is not only a privilege for the wealthy."


The Solar Gardens Institute also is waiting impatiently for PUC approval, said Joy Hughes, a representative from the Westminster-based group who is based in the San Luis Valley in the western part of the state.

Hughes and others from the nonprofit group are "actively looking" in Boulder County for solar garden sites, Hughes said. In addition, the group is looking to partner with a utility cooperative to offer solar garden benefits to customers, she said.

Read more:

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Colorado Springs City Council Votes 9-0 for Golar Gardens!

Colorado Springs, known as one of the most conservative cities in the country, is going all in for solar gardens. Weekly events have The program will allow for shared arrays of 100 to 500 kilowatts within a 2 Megawatt pilot program. Users receive a $2 per watt rebate and a 9 cent/kWh bill credit.

We're excited to see this innovative program going forward!

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

Monday, September 26, 2011

Please join XCEL's Solar Gardens list

     I spoke with XCEL today - there is still a ways to go to complete the solar garden program, and its not certain if it will be completed before the end of the year.  The hope is if the process runs past the end of the year we will have 12 Megawatts in 2012 - but solar gardeners might lose the benefit of the 1603 tax grant.

     There's a great team of people working within XCEL to make solar gardens happen.  They pointed out that they have a spiffy new website and mailing list- but they still need people to join.  Please visit the site, scroll to the bottom of the page, and sign up for XCEL's list.*Rewards_Community_2_-_CO

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hands On Children’s Museum goes solar

It says here there's 16 community solar projects already in Washington. Congrats to Tangerine as they move forward to their third project.

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

Friday, September 23, 2011

Support 2B and 2C in Boulder, Colo. (municipal utilities)

Boulder, Colorado voters face a major question in November- who will provide electric power to city residents?

Last year, a 20-year contract with Xcel Energy expired. No new franchise contract was signed. Some residents and some city staff asked why Boulder couldn't create a municipal utility.

Colorado has 29 municipal utilities, providing 14 percent of the state's electricity.

Supporters of measures 2B and 2C are asking to move forward in the next steps toward creating a utility district. Voting yes allows the city to finalize costs and expenses. It does NOT lock the city into a more expensive option for electricity. Should start up costs and expenses be prohibitive, the move would cease. Supporters of 2B and 2C call these options off ramps.

The first question asks voters if the city should create a utility to provide electricity. Xcel would continue to provide natural gas.

The second question asks voters to extend and increase the utility occupation tax to fund start up costs of the utility.
A new utility, referred to as Boulder Power and Light during a League of Women Voters debate Sept. 21, would be required to meet Xcel's prices for electricity, called rate parity.
City staff estimated that the utility occupation tax extension would add 60 cents to a bill using 490kwh.

The Solar Gardens Institute endorses a YES vote on both 2B and 2C so that Boulder, with its history of environmental thinking, can decide the mix of renewable and fossil fuels for the best benefit of the community and community sensibilities.

YES votes allow Boulder a better negotiating position with Xcel. Many rural electric cooperatives in Colorado purchase electricity from investor owned utilities including Xcel.
If BP&L moves forward to buy the poles and wires of the distribution system within Boulder, the utility could purchase power from multiple sources, dictating the fuel mix. Conceivably, Boulder could well exceed state requirements for renewable energy laid on investor-owned utilities.

One correction we at SGI have to a comment made by David Miller during the Sept. 21 debate is that solar gardens would not go away in Boulder.

The Colorado Solar Gardens Act states that investor-owned utilities must extend similar benefits to solar gardeners. That equates to Solar Rewards, a project Xcel is revamping.
We expect that Boulder, which took the lead in zoning changes for solar gardens, would continue to support solar gardens within a municipal utility.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Solar Sins - China solar panel factory shut after protests

Now we know why those panels were so cheap!


A solar panel factory in eastern China has been shut down after protests by local residents over pollution fears.

Some 500 villagers staged a three-day protest following the death of large numbers of fish in a local river.

Some demonstrators broke into the plant in Zhejiang province, destroying offices and overturning company cars before being dispersed by riot police.

Tests on water samples showed high levels of fluoride, which can be toxic in high doses, officials said.

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

9/27 Webinar: Introduction to Community Solar Decision Support Tool

Sarah Mazze from Oregon aasked to pass this along. Her site is quite helpful for those in Oregon, and she hopes to grow the model to other states.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM PDT

Community solar holds great potential for increasing investment in solar by customers who cannot host a system onsite. So called "solar gardens" allow for participation in collectively owned system and provide payments for the electricity generated by the system. But creating a community solar program requires specialized business, legal, and technical knowledge that can present new barriers for implementation.

The beta version of the online Community Solar Tool, found at, sheds light on these obstacles to widespread growth of community solar. The tool is designed to support users in making realistic decisions based on individual community needs and specifications. To our knowledge, this is the first online tool of its kind, specifically geared to communities that are unsure if they have the capacity to start a solar project.

Join members of the project development team from The Resource Innovation Group and the University of Oregon for a preview of the Community Solar Tool and to learn more about applicability of the tool in Oregon and nationwide.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Community Solar Gardens on the Rise!

With even mainstream home builders offering solar options, and some tantalizing hints that solar could be as cheap as coal by 2015, interest in solar for homeowners looks set to rise in coming years. But what about renters, or those who live in the woods? Now there's also an increasing interest in "solar gardens" that allow energy users to invest in solar on someone else's property and still reap the economic rewards. In fact, this may even make sense for folks who could put solar on their own roof if they wanted to.

Read more:

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

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Solarthon Bay Area - A Solar Barn Raising by Grid Alternatives

A team of women up on the roof
     This is about as much fun as a solar geek goddess could possibly have, at least with her clothes on!  California nonprofit Grid Alternatives sponsors a Solarthon each year in each of several regions of California.  This event just happened to fall on the day of my arrival in the Bay Area, with 13 installations going up in the Bayview/Hunter's Point area of San Francisco.  California's SASH program (Single-family Affordable Solar Housing) gives extra incentives for people who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford solar energy.

The newest solar customer


      A very enthusiastic band of volunteers spread out across the neighborhood - I gravitated to a house which was being installed by a group of women.  This is how it should be!   A community bonding together through food, drink, and sweat.  Women and men, black and white, sharing leadership and skills - literally saving the world and lowering energy costs for the people who need it most.
All together now

     Let this be an inspiration for community solar gardens!

Now flip the switch!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Solar Sins - Ivanpah Photos: Before and After - Coyote Crossing

The desert is not deserted, empty, or dead - the desert is alive, and one of the world's most fragile ecosystems. At Ivanpah, thousands of acres of prime desert tortoise habitat have been scraped, so the power can be sent hundreds of miles.

This is non-renewable land use, and thus not renewable energy. It has pitted green against green and made solar into an extractive industry.

But let's not focus on this one site (pun intended). We must consider the fate of all the world's deserts - the enormous threat to the Sahara from the DESERTEC project comes to mind. It starts with transmission lines.

Let's use land that has already been paved, or mined, or turned into garbage dumps. We also have these things called rooftops, in case people have forgotten.

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct Copper Crossing Solar Ranch Now Producing Energy In Ariz.

The Salt River Project in Arizona has set up a 20 Megawatt system under its community solar program to provide power to over 100 schools. Depending on your definition of "community" solar, this is now the largest such site in the world.

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

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

McKibben: What Comes Next for Tar Sands Action | ThinkProgress

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

Wisconsin Solar farm lets investors buy panels | Energy Central

The idea, said Steve Johnson, vice president of business development, is to provide a green-power investment opportunity for people who live in a condo or have too much shade to make solar power workable on their own home's roof.

By the time it's finished this year, it will be the second-largest solar project in Wisconsin, after Epic Systems' corporate campus solar project in Verona.

But instead of being developed by one large company, this project is being built, piece by piece, as investors take a stake in the project.

Read more:

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

Solar Gardens: Sprouting Soon in a Community Near You · Environmental Management & Energy News

In March 2007, Community Housing Works, a non-profit developer/owner of low income housing projects, unveiled a 56-unit multi-tenant unit (MTU) apartment complex called Solara in Poway, California, in San Diego county.  Solara was designed from the ground up to incorporate green and sustainability features, including a net-zero energy footprint goal.  To generate 100% of its own electricity, the project included a series of 836 solar photo voltaic (PV) panels with a total nameplate capacity of 142 kilowatts (kW) installed on rooftops and carports throughout the complex.

At the time of Solara's construction, most projects only attempted to incorporate solar PV to serve the energy load from common areas, such as laundry facilities or community rooms.  These installations were limited because of outdated regulatory policies that required each individual unit to have its own physically isolated solar system.

Solara sought to bring solar power to all of its tenants and was forced in install separate arrays of panels for each and every unit.  This meant taking a dozen panels at a time, wiring them to individual solar inverters (to convert energy from DC to AC), and running separate cabling from each cluster of solar panels directly into each tenant's separate electricity meter.  Clearly, this was not the most efficient way to deliver power in an MTU property.

A Better Way?

In 2008, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) created a program called "Virtual Net Metering", or "VNM" specifically for Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) projects like Solara. (CPUC decision 08-10-036.)

Read More:

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

Monday, September 5, 2011

Crestone Energy Fair a Success!

The town of Crestone in Colorado's San Luis Valley sits at the edge of a spectacular mountain range and overlooks a broad, sunny expanse of farms, ranches, a wildlife refuge, and Great Sand Dunes National Park.

The 21st annual Crestone Energy Fair was decently attended, if not crowded. The town is, after all, surrounded by high desert and mountain wilderness where you can measure poulation density in square kilometers per person. The Solar Gardens Institute booth signed up potential subscribers to a planned 25 kilowatt solar garden.

These solar micro-gardens, with just upwards of 100 panels, can be implemented on any rural electric co-op under Tri-state that is willing to implement virtual net metering. The Solar Panel Hosting Company intends to offer a very simple way to get ownership and production data to the utility's billing system for automated credits.

Ceal Smith of the San Luis Valley Renewable Communities Alliance spoke on distributed energy in the San Luis Valley, and how the valley could become a self-sufficient microgrid exporting a modest amount of electricity. Organizer Vince Palermo then gave an excellent presentation about the solar garden - as clear and concise as I've yet heard.

At a panel sponsored by Transition Crestone, Wayne Snider spoke about the community solar system recently built in the town of Fowler. Chris Canaly of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council discussed a proposed solar master plan for the valley. I had a chance to talk about solar gardens sprouting up everywhere - at least six we are developing in Colorado with the help of Renewable Energy Development Team at the Governor's Energy Office.

Paul Shippee of the Crestone Solar School discussed nonviolent communication. Lee Temple shifted the focus, bringing feelings to the surface, discussing our purpose as Earth healers, and how Crestone has created local food systems at farms and ranches that will now serve as host sites for community power. Robin Blankenship, a representative of the local primitive skills group, spoke about simplifying and reducing one's consumption.

The session finished with a free sharing of the microphone, covering all kinds of topics including where to locate a community greenhouse.

Thanks to all who attended!


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

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Victoria, Australia - Community Owned Solar Farm

It's amazing to see the cooperative model springing up around the world, in the UK, US, Canada and Australia! Here in Colorado, a group of us are forming a cooperative for community solar gardens around the state.

- Joy


Almost 100 people attended a meeting at Burrinja last week to show their support for the launch of Victoria's first community owned solar farm, which will see a building in the hills fitted with solar panels. The location has not yet been decided.


Dandenong Ranges Renewable Energy Association president Peter Cook said the meeting had gone well, with 25 people becoming members of the Ranges Energy co-operative and about $33,000 pledged in memberships.

Read more:

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

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Oakland, Tues 9/13: Cleanpath CEO Matt Chenery and SGI Founder Joy Hughes on Solar Gardens in California

Community-Based Solar Gardens in California - SB 843

Looking for New Energy

Featured Presenters

Joy Hughes

Joy is the founder of the Solar Gardens Institute, a pioneering nonprofit in the field of community solar. She is also CEO of the Solar Panel Hosting Company, a hosting services provider, supplying tools and training to community leaders everywhere.

Matt Cheney
Matt is a solar industry champion and CEO of CleanPath Ventures, which is focused on the development of renewable energy by providing technical and financial resources to large-scale projects that are stuck, distressed, or stalled in the development cycle.

Hear From the Experts:
Shared, Community-Based Solar Gardens in California—SB 843
When: Tuesday, September 13, 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm
Where: 2nd Floor Conference Room, Central Historic Building, 436 14th St. (at Broadway), Oakland
Please RSVP:
(Note: very light refreshments, but no dinner!)

SB 843 allows utility customers who are renters, or who do not have an appropriate roof for hosting solar panels, to invest in or lease a portion of a shared solar facility in their region. Investors receive the credit from their share of the electricity produced, as if the panels were located on their own rooftops. SB 843 is similar to Colorado's Community Solar Gardens Act and Washington's Community Solar Enabling Act.

This program will feature:
Joy Hughes, Founder of the Solar Gardens Institute
Matt Cheney, CEO of CleanPath Ventures and solar shares pioneer in Califonia

Learn about this legislation—its pros and cons—and about the experiences of other states. Can this bill lead to an expansion of local renewable energy? Should we support SB 843? Can we strengthen or improve the bill?

More details on SB 843

Principles of responsible solar development

Looking for Some New Energy!!

That’s right, as the fall season approaches, the Local Clean Energy Alliance is looking for an infusion of some new energy—people energy—to help us meet our aggressive goals for the coming year.

We welcome your involvement in any number of ways. All it takes is a commitment to local renewable energy solutions that contribute to the health of our community in an equitable way. Check out some of the opportunities available, especially the volunteer openings, and the call for Steering Committee nominations.

Join the Local Clean Energy Alliance

And not to overlook one of the most important ways you can support our work, we encourage individuals and organizations to join the Alliance.

Community Solar Project (CSP) in Washington

Washington Solar Incentives (WSI) announced the completion of its second community solar project (CSP) on Kingston High School in Kingston. "Our first CSP took about a year but this one took only four months. That's proof that community solar is an energy solution that works," says Rick Lander, owner of WSI.

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

Friday, September 2, 2011

Joy Hughes Solar Gardens Presentation

Here is the presentation I gave at the August 5 Connecting Communities Colloquium in Denver. This shows some of the projects we are planning.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Call for projects!

Right now is a good time to start a solar project - an important tax grant program is ending, and  new solar gardens programs are beginning.  Soon, the first year's projects on XCEL territory will be chosen.  It's time to get permits in place and prepare to put up panels.

We can help make a community solar project easy for a community group or solar company by handling all the tasks specific to solar gardens such as creating the subscriber organization, recruiting and managing subscribers, and handling bill credits. is partnering with the Renewable Energy Development Team at the Governor's Energy Office to help projects achieve interconnection, regulatory approval, and finance.  We are interested in projects with these particular characteristics.

XCEL Territory in Colorado - The Solar*Rewards Community program is ramping up!  We are looking for hosts for systems of any size, but especially at the "sweet spot" levels of 50 and 500 kilowatts.  The Solar Panel Hosting Company is willing to work with all solar developers to help move these projects into approval.    

Small Projects on Tri-State Territory (Most rural electric utilities in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Nebraska) - We are testing the waters with projects under 25 kilowatts that can be net metered as if they were on the customer's property.

Projects in California - California's solar gardens bill SB843 is moving forward, and it's not too early to start getting ready, organizing your community, and finding sites.

Municipal Utilities Anywhere - Municipal utilities have the most flexibility to establish a community solar program.  The towns of Fort Collins and Colorado Springs are both developing solar gardens programs.

Churches and Nonprofits Anywhere - Churches and other houses of worship, as well as other nonprofits, may benefit by having an array owned by a group of members as investors.

Let us know at - let's get these projects up and running!


Edmonds, WA Solar Cooperative Installs First Round

Congrats to the Edmonds Solar Cooperative!  $40,000 was raised from local utility customers in $1,000 "slices"  to install the 4.2 kW array.  These solar shares have a ten-year pay back.  A small step to install this first array, but one giant leap forward for community solar.

A similar cooperative is taking shape in Colorado!  If cooperative model can scale, it will be a viable subscriber organization for solar gardens.

For more info: