How Solar Energy is Expanding in the San Luis Valley

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With an average of 350 days of sunshine every year, few trees, and low precipitation, the San Luis Valley has the perfect climate for solar energy. The Valley is even nicknamed “The Land of Cool Sunshine.”

solar panels coloradoERC Regional Director Charles “Charlie” Sanchez recognized this as an opportunity. He also recognized a few other things about the area: Water and power were expensive, the median household income was less than $35,000 a year, and few other solar providers were working in the region that made up the San Luis Valley, Pagosa and Otero County. He knew solar installations could be a game changer for both the ERC Alamosa office, which could use the contracts to help families, and for the community, who needed relief from utility bills that were too expensive. 

Charlie started conversations with the Colorado Energy Office, the local utility provider, Xcel Energy, and the ERC crew who brought the necessary skills, and formulated a plan to pilot a solar program. With funding and agreements in place from all the stakeholders, a solar installation program was born at ERC Alamosa. 

In charge of figuring out the logistics and getting the crew trained was ERC – Alamosa Operations Director David Malouff. Drawing on knowledge from solar experts, David built the program from scratch. He learned the tools of the trade so he could design the right system for each client, he created the schematic templates that would need to get approved for each project, and he worked through the kinks of building a brand new system. Alongside him were crew members already skilled in construction, electrical, masonry, and excavation, who expanded their skills into solar installations and brought valuable insight and information to the program.

The result: single-family homes and multi-family dwellings from Alamosa to Alma have been equipped with high-quality solar panels, inverter systems, and solar storage batteries that help heat, cool, light, and run homes. 

A multi-family dwelling in Del Norte now has a 72-panel cell that runs 28 apartments – lowering bills and reducing carbon emissions. A frigid winter install in Alma brought solar to a mountain cabin that can now have heat and cold all year; and an off-grid home on the plains not only has a ground mount solar system, but climate-controlled battery housing built by ERC crew. 

Each project the crew of the ERC solar program completes is life-changing for the client. Utility bills drop between 90 and 120%; residents struggling with or unable to use utilities at all are connected to heat, cool, light, and other basic home services; carbon emissions are lowered significantly. In some cases, solar is helping family farms stay afloat as farmers mitigate expensive water bills and the expensive power systems needed to pump water and run their farms. 

Solar has proven invaluable to the San Luis Valley and surrounding communities, so Charlie and the skilled crews of other ERC offices are exploring the expansion of the solar installation program. Stay tuned as ERC develops even more innovative ways to help families afford to live and thrive.