Solar panels

The Colorado Energy Office is working to help communities transition from coal and other energy sources to cleaner sources, in hopes that will make those economies more resilient.

In Paonia-based nonprofit Solar Energy International, the CEO found an ideal partner. Not only has the office previously teamed up with SEI, but its programs prioritize small, rural needs, so the best match was an entity with a focus on rural communities, said Michael Turner, director of Building Innovation and Finance at the Colorado Energy Office.

“For us, this is really a strategic partnership with a Colorado-based organization to really help Colorado communities increase their economic and climate resiliency,” Turner said.

The partnership is intended to expand and promote SEI’s Solar Forward initiative, described as a program providing technical consulting support to solar market development in rural areas. The partnership with the state entails quarterly webinars on topics concerning residential and commercial solar market development during COVID-19, success stories and roadmaps from communities that are transitioning to cleaner energy.

The first, on Sept. 29, features information about the consulting tools through Solar Forward and accounts from firsthand participants.

The partnership is also to be used as a platform for applying for federal funds that can expand the programs to more communities, as well as to collaborate with other state efforts related to transitioning. The latter includes the Just Transition Office that was created by recent legislation to help coal-dependent communities, like Paonia has been, turn to a more diversified economy.

"SEI is so excited to kick off a partnership between the Solar Forward program and the Colorado Energy Office. SEI's rural-centric programming aligns with the energy office's work to bring resources to citizens across Colorado,” SEI Solar Forward Program Manager Mary Marshall in a provided statement.

“Together, we can join forces to aid in the just transition to a renewable and energy-efficient future in rural communities across the state.”

The technical support, financing mechanism and “turnkey” programs will provide education, auditing, follow-up coaching and possible implementation of financial support, Turner said.

“In our mind, the partnership is really predicated on partnering with organizations that can get more resources into the hands of the communities that need them the most,” he said.

The state is identifying where SEI and the energy office can best direct resources.

The partners also want to show that it’s possible to get resources into communities — as well as how it can collaborate with ongoing state and federal initiatives, engage communities and target resources so that better energy use is an actual result, Turner said.

There are barriers, too, he said: determining options and advantages and overcoming costs, as it takes money to bring renewable energy assets online.

The bulk of the CEO’s programs are geared toward providing resources for on-the-ground implementation, Turner also said.

“A unique thing about this project as well is that the solarize program is motivated to kick start solar programs in these rural communities. It really is about finding new economic opportunities,” he said.

The Sept. 29 webinar includes information about a northwestern Colorado project in which seven communities came together on a solar efficiency study. Turner said those communities will be implementing a large solar project, leveraging $1.7 million in state funding and using an energy contracting model prepared by the CEO. The project is anticipated to shave more than $230,000 a year off energy costs in the community.

The webinar begins at 10 a.m. Sept. 29. Visit to be redirected to the registration page.

“I think it’s very exciting to be at the start of this, especially at the moment when people are looking for solutions,” Turner said.

“ … this is a way to get at both the economy and climate resiliency.”

For more information about Solar Energy International, click here. For more information about the Colorado Energy Office, click here.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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