In an effort to provide access to solar energy for mobile home residents, the City of Boulder came up with a unique solution: a Solar Garden. KGNU’s Rossana Longo-Better reports for Rocky Mountain Community Radio as part of our collaborative series on transitioning away from fossil fuels.
Ponderosa is one of 5 mobile home parks in the city of Boulder. In 2019 the city purchased the park to maintain affordable housing and to improve park infrastructure. One of the projects the city took on was creating access to solar energy for the residents. Carlos Valdez, who has lived in Ponderosa for 9 years, says his energy bill is now lower.
“During the summer I was paying like $80-$90. Now I’m paying $40-$35, that was my lowest bill”, says Valdez.
Ponderosa residents getting solar energy save on average more than $400 on their electricity bills each year. Low income communities typically pay higher energy costs as the homes are often not well insulated and are less energy efficient.
Carolyn Elam, Energy Systems Senior Manager for the City of Boulder says mobile home residents have historically been excluded from accessing solar energy because the panels don’t fit on the homes: “They can’t support solar panels on their roof. They’re not structural, there’s other limitations. And so we really wanted to figure out how to come up with a solution that benefited everybody in the community.”
The city came up with the idea of a solar garden, located outside of the park. “So one of the benefits of what we have as a city organization is we own a lot of land and structures. And so several years ago we did an analysis. We hired a company to look at where all the potential was on things that the city itself owned. So whether that was buildings like an airport or our municipal buildings or land. And this particular garden, we found a location for it. It’s adjacent to the Boulder reservoir at the north end of Boulder. And one of the benefits of solar gardens is they don’t have to be located exactly where the customers are, the people who are getting the benefits of it, so we can take advantage of places that have that space to install the system.” says Elam.
Elam says the funding for the project comes from a completely different industry. “We actually collect as part of our marijuana cultivation licensing process. They’re required to offset their energy. We reinvest that in the community. So we had some funding available and we’re able to make that investment. And we started to look at different ways we could bring solar.”
The first resident to allow the city to install the solar system is Kathy Schlereth. “It was July last year when, when it physically was going to be turned on, but it was a couple of months before the glitches all got worked out.” says Schlereth.
“My first bill was an $80 savings, but it’s averaged out so far to about $37 a month. And we were told that the city was going to up how much solar energy we could have. And so we were told at some point that our bills should be at least paid half of our bill, which would really be nice. And it was kind of nice too, that’s the way it worked out, so it was actually hooked up before we had to start using our furnaces to help balance the extra bill added on from, you know, having to heat our homes for the winter.”
The Ponderosa solar garden is the first city-owned garden in the country that is dedicated to low-income participants. The city is looking at other solar garden projects to expand access to renewable energy to other low income communities, renters and those who live in multi-family buildings.
This story is part of a Rocky Mountain Community Radio reporting collaboration on fossil fuels.