Completed in October 2021, this study estimates the market potential for solar and storage projects in Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties, and presents an action plan for maximizing solar development while securing economic and other benefits for the region.

The Three County Solar + Storage Study and Action Plan builds on longstanding efforts in the three counties to accelerate locally produced clean energy and to meet goals set by local governments, electric utilities and the state of Colorado. While much of the additional clean energy will come from large-scale projects outside the region, a significant share of electricity demand could be met by locally sited community-scale and smaller net-metered systems. This would avoid long-distance transmission costs and benefit the regional economy; coupling it with battery storage delivers further benefits to consumers and utilities.

The report includes:

  • An inventory of energy use and current solar production in the three-county region
  • Detailed analysis of the technical and market potential of community-scale solar and residential/commercial rooftop solar
  • Quantification of the value to the regional economy of local employment, energy cost savings, project installation costs, and long-term revenues from operations and maintenance, property tax revenues and land leases
  • Analysis of other benefits such as reduced carbon emissions, power supply resilience and enhanced native vegetation
  • A comprehensive action plan with recommendations for financing, capacity building, regulatory and infrastructure improvements, land use practices, tax policies and incentives, economic development support, and training.

Key Findings

Through this study, the project team sought to answer a series of questions about the potential scale of solar plus storage development and the benefits such development could deliver. The answers, presented here as key findings, show exceptional promise for using solar plus storage to help meet renewable energy goals:

How much electricity is used in the region per year?
1.86 million megawatt-hours of electricity, at a cost of $193 million, in 2019.

How much more community-scale solar could feasibly be developed in the region, under current market conditions?
232 megawatts, equal to about 420,000 megawatt-hours of production per year.

What roles will battery storage play?
Help utilities balance supply and demand, maintain a resilient energy supply during emergencies, and make new solar development viable for the local electric grid.

How much of the region’s electricity consumption could be met by developing more community-scale solar plus storage?
If all 232 MW were developed, it could provide 23% of the region’s electricity consumption.

What benefits and advantages would come from growth in community-scale and net-metered solar plus storage?
Cutting carbon emissions, building resilience in the energy supply, and boosting the economy.

What are the local economic benefits for developing 232MW solar plus storage?
Local purchase of products and services, property tax revenue, land lease revenue, energy savings and jobs.

What barriers and restrictions stand in the way of an even higher amount of solar plus storage development?
Grid limitations, energy storage costs, and current regulations.

What can the region do to realize its full solar plus storage potential?
An action plan, Section 8.0, spells out the steps for local governments, utilities, solar developers and landowners.

This report is part of a package of projects funded by a Colorado Department of Local Affairs Renewable Energy Challenge Grant and Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties. Other elements of the package include:

  • Regional Energy Inventory – analyzing energy use, costs and emissions in the three counties (2019 data)
  • Regional Solar Map – a proprietary GIS-based map developed in partnership with National Land Realty
  • Solar Development Tool Box – an online suite of resources to inform landowners and local governments about successful solar plus storage project development
  • Permitting and Land Use Technical Assistance – ongoing support for local governments
  • Economic Transition Assessment (in preparation) – An overview of the oil and gas industry’s economic role in Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties

Advancing renewable energy in the region depends on more than finding suitable locations for solar projects. Other factors include the region’s patchwork of electric utility service territories, physical limits to accessing the local distribution grid, barriers inhibiting development of battery storage, and lack of a regional transmission grid operator. The region’s current market potential could increase as barriers are adjusted or removed. (Adapted from a graphic by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.)

The Three County Solar + Storage Study and Action Plan is the result of collaborative work that includes staff from CLEER (Clean Energy Economy for the Region), CORE (Community Office for Resource Efficiency) and Walking Mountains Science Center. In addition, the team worked with technical advisors from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, RMI and electric utility representatives. Funding was provided by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, with contributions from Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin Counties. Garfield Clean Energy also provided significant funding, recognizing the potential of solar energy to diversify the county’s economy while honoring its long history of energy development.

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