COVER STORY Solar panels at Denver International Airport

A solar panel installation at Denver International Airport.

The Denver City Council safety committee approved a $26 million, 25-year contract Wednesday to fund solar power generating facilities and electric vehicle charging stations throughout the city.

The full City Council will vote on whether to approve the contract in the coming weeks. If passed, the contract with McKinstry Essention LLC for the design, construction and maintenance of the facilities would last through Nov. 1, 2046.

“This program is specifically designed to help us power our facilities and also provide that equity benefit to folks who might not qualify for privately-offered solar,” said Jonny Rogers, the city’s renewable energy specialist.

Currently, 10 solar panel arrays are planned for the proposed contract. The arrays are expected to generate over 144 million kilowatts per hour of renewable electricity, hosted across city-owned parking lots, rooftops and land parcels.

The electricity generated would be used to power city facilities like recreation centers and Denver Public Schools buildings, Rogers said. In addition, 30% of the electricity would be allocated to low-income households.

Rogers said this would equate to providing power to about 150 low-income families throughout the city.

“From an equity standpoint, this is really important and is a great opportunity,” Council President Stacie Gilmore said. “I’d be really interested in how we can build this program out.”

Gilmore praised an apprenticeship program included in the contract that would allow Denver students to learn how to install solar panels. Gilmore suggested the city expand the program to also pay students to do community outreach regarding solar power.

If the contract is approved, construction on the 10 solar panel arrays is scheduled to begin in four phases throughout 2022, Rogers said. 

Four of the arrays would be located at the Denver International Airport and National Western Center Campus, as well as solar carports at recreation centers, schools and city offices in Districts 5, 6, 8, 9 and 11. Some council members criticized how the arrays would be distributed.

"Of the 10 sites, all but one are east of Colorado Boulevard. None are in southwest Denver other than the Harvard Gulch Rec Center,” Councilman Kevin Flynn said. “I’m interested in having the benefits equitably distributed.”

Flynn requested that the low-income families chosen to receive the 30% of power be better distributed throughout the city. The families have not yet been selected, Rogers said. 

The contract proposal was passed unanimously by committee members Wednesday. 

This contract would be part of the Renewable Denver Community Solar initiative, aiming to build and operate up to 15 megawatts of city-owned community solar projects by 2025. The 10 planned arrays would add 4.6 megawatts.