CBR Energy Group

In the summer of 2018 Crestone Baca Resiliency’s (CBR) Energy Group put out a survey to determine local interest in photovoltaic (pv) power, the production of electricity from the sun, for peoples’ residences. There were 77 responses, a healthy number for this community of approximately 2500 people. This survey addressed only electricity-producing solar, not solar hot water. Here are the questions and the responses:

1. Where is your property located?

Town of Crestone – 4; Baca Chalets – 55; Baca Grants – 15; Moffat – 0; other – 3

2. Do you currently have photovoltaics?

Yes – 16; no – 60; no answer – 1

3. If you answered “yes”, what size system do you have?

Those who knew – 19; those who didn’t know – 7

4. Are you:

Grid-tied – 54; grid-tied with battery backup – 4; completely off-grid – 10; no answer – 9

5. Are you interested in pv in the near future if it’s affordable?

Yes – 63; no – 9; no answer – 5

6. If you answered yes, would you want:

Grid-tied – 14; grid-tied with battery backup – 21; completely off-grid – 15; an upgrade to existing grid-tied to include battery backup – 12; no answer – 15

At the end of the survey, respondents could ask questions and make comments. There were a number of encouraging responses, like “Please send any future info related to this topic.” “Thanks for getting this going.” “Glad you’re doing this.” “I’d love to have it if I could afford it.” and “Thanks for all of your hard work.”

Respondents’ questions

What is photovoltaic? Photovoltaic energy is electricity produced from the sun by means of photovoltaic panels. You can see a whole field of pv panels on the west side of Hwy. 17 between Mosca and Hooper. Pv for individual residences is just a few panels on the ground near the house, or on the roof. This is not solar hot water, which is a completely separate system.

What is the difference between grid-tied and off-grid? Grid-tied systems are connected to the local utility; in Crestone Baca and other parts of the San Luis Valley, this is SLVREC. Excess electricity produced by the pv panels of a grid-tied SLVREC residential customer is purchased by the utility and deducted from the customer’s bill. This is the less expensive way to use your pv system, but if the electricity from SLVREC goes out, so does the electricity in your house. 

Off-grid is without a connection to SLVREC. If the utility-provided electricity goes out, you still have your power because you have stored it during the day in batteries. This is a bigger up-front investment (in batteries, controller and inverter and a small room separate from living space to house these elements), but you won’t have any monthly utility bill.

What if you’re off-grid and there’s not enough sun? Your solar installer will be able to size your system (including batteries) to match your needs for 3-4 days of limited sun. You will need to keep an eye on your power level (on a readout installed inside the house) during a cloudy period and perhaps delay using equipment that uses a lot of power. It’s also useful, though not required, to have a gasoline- or propane-powered generator to charge batteries if they get low. We have so many sunny days here in the SLV that a generator is seldom needed.

Is wind energy an alternative? We certainly get wind in the SLV, especially in the spring, but it’s not as consistent as our sunshine. Sometimes people use wind power as an auxiliary power source to their pv system.

How can I find out more about this? Contact one of the solar providers advertising here. They will be glad to answer your questions.

I would be very interested in participating in a local community solar garden. The CBR Energy Group is talking to various entities about the possibility of establishing a solar garden. This is an installation larger than a residential pv system, where individuals who may not have the location or finances for their own system can invest. If you would like to participate in such an effort, please send an email to woodmandesign@fairpoint.net and you will be notified of meetings and interesting renewable-energy developments.

How can we get gray water systems integrated into new building plans and major remodels? That’s a good question, and you might want to join the CBR Water Group to pursue that. Send an email to janiewater4u@gmail.com to get on their mailing list.

How can I get involved? The CBR Energy Group welcomes persons who are interested in attending monthly meetings and working on one of our many projects, such as local preparedness for grid failure, establishment of a solar garden, educating local youth in pv installation, contacting with other policy/advocacy groups, establishing an energy audit system and supporting candidates for the SLVREC board of directors. If you are interested in pitching in, please contact Janet Woodman at woodmandesign@fairpoint.net.