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DENVER — The Denver Housing Authority has good reason to toot its own horn.
DHA has just been announced as the winner of the $500,000 grand prize in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar in your Community Challenge.
The $5-million competition was launched in 2016 as a way to improve energy affordability and to expand solar access to low-and-moderate-income households.
DHA's entry, the CARE Project (Clean Affordable Renewable Energy), included a two-megawatt community solar garden which serves 500 homes throughout the City & County of Denver, with different affordable housing developers.
DHA Portfolio Energy Manager Chris Jedd said the solar array, built near Watkins, is doing more than reduce the authority's environmental imprint.
"It also reduces our energy costs — our energy spend," he said. "That allows DHA and other affordable housing developers to save money on operating expenses and to reinvest that money into the building, or the community at large."
The community solar garden is the main component of Project CARE.
The project has three main goals:
- Offer predictable reduced energy costs and renewable energy options to low-income communities
- Develop a pipeline to employment in the solar industry for under-served communities
- Prove that CARE is a scalable model that can be replicated by other housing authorities
Mr. Jedd said the CARE project helped train several residents.
"They went out into the field and actually did hands-on training, as well as safety training," he said. "Some actually got jobs after that with solar developers or other consultants for the program."
When asked which homes are helped by the solar array, which is 20 to 30 miles away," Jedd replied. "It's nice that we have virtual net metering here in Colorado, where you can assign subscribed buildings, subscribers, and low-income residents to the community solar garden and they'll capture those savings on their electric bill."
Belief in solar power
The housing authority is a big believer in solar power.
It has outfitted affordable homes throughout the city with solar panels, among them, those in the North Lincoln Park complex, south of Colfax along Mariposa Street.
North Lincoln Park resident Gina Jones said those panels are sending a message to future generations.
"It's sending a message that we need to take care of mother," she said. "The earth is our mother. We need to take care of her."
They are also, seemingly, sending a message to conserve energy.
Resident Shirley Brown told Denver7 that she conserves and that her bill reflects it.
"Here, the highest mine has ever been is $7.00," she said. "It's very good."
"The nice thing about Project CARE is that any of our portfolios can sign up," Jedd said. "We could switch buildings. We could sign up North Lincoln Homes if we wanted to. It's very flexible."
He also said that some DHA residents are directly subscribed to Project CARE, which saves on their utility bills.
"It's not just DHA saving money, but some of our residents too," he said, "saving close to 20 percent on their electricity bill. That can equate to 15 to 25 per month on their bill, which goes a long way, with that savings over the course of a year."
Jedd said DHA is very excited to have won the award.
When asked where the housing authority goes from there, he replied, "hopefully more solar gardens."
"At DHA, we have a large portfolio, and we could use a lot more solar resources and assets," he said. "We like the rooftop mounts and the solar gardens...so the idea is to develop more solar gardens with our project partners moving forward."
He said GRID Alternatives, Namaste Solar, Ensight Energy Consulting and SolarTac all partnered with DHA in making the community solar garden a reality.
It is one of the first housing authority owned and operated community solar gardens in the country.