The Magic of Colorado Springs
David Amster-Olszewski founded SunShare in 2010 in Colorado Springs. Before this, David had been working in the solar industry and was looking for ways to make it more accessible for every person. One evening while explaining his grievances with his mother, Robyn, she said she didn’t understand why solar energy wasn’t easier for everyone to obtain, “it’s not like you need a coal plant in your back yard to get electricity now.”
This comment was a turning point for David. She was right. If people don’t need a power plant in your backyard to receive electricity, why then, should people who want solar be required to install solar modules on their roof? Something needed to change.
Luckily for David, the state of Colorado thought so too. In 2010, Colorado wrote the first community solar legislation in the country. According to the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), only 22 to 27% of U.S. residents have roofs that are suitable for solar modules. The reason for such a low percentage is because most of us live in homes with old roofs, shading, or don’t own our roofs. Colorado legislators wanted the other 73 to 78% of the population to have a renewable energy option.
Once learning about the new bill, David left his job and moved back to Colorado Springs, where he had attended college. He worked with Colorado Springs Municipal Utility to create the first ever competitive community solar program in the country. The demand for this type of program was glaringly apparent, as our first Garden sold out in just 10 weeks.
What happened in Colorado Springs was magical. Most of us do not think about our electricity, and when we do it is for about 6-9 minutes a year. We come home, flip the light switch, and the light comes on. We aren’t thinking about the burning coal that is used every time we turn on an appliance. The citizens of Colorado Springs thought differently. In the middle of downtown Colorado Springs, there is a coal plant. Residents see and smell this plant every day. They know exactly where their electricity is sourced from, unlike the majority of Americans. When they were presented with a choice, a real choice in an energy source, they chose solar.
Today, we recognize that education is key. While most people want to switch to solar, most people do not know how. Through our direct outreach to the communities we serve, people are doubling the time they spend thinking about their electricity, opting for a local renewable electricity program, and saving money on their bills.
Since 2010, we have grown from our first 500 kW garden to 12 MW of fully subscribed gardens across the Front Range. These 12 MW are only the beginning, we have over 150 MW in our pipeline between Minnesota and Colorado. The response to a program like this has been overwhelming. In December alone, hundreds of households signed up in Minnesota.
Colorado Springs showed SunShare that the mission of our projects is something consumers truly want. As Minnesotans are signing up by the hundreds and more states adopt community solar legislation, we see the magic of Colorado Springs spreading throughout the nation. We hold our Colorado Springs origins and our first customers close to our hearts. Thank you for paving the way of the future.