If you live in an apartment in Boulder or Broomfield counties, you can get solar power. Even if your home is located 15 miles from the nearest solar panel and is in the constant shadow of a mountain, tall tree or nearby building, it can be powered by the sun. Thanks to a Louisville company.

Founded in Carbondale in 2009, Clean Energy Collective moved to Boulder County in 2013. While lying low locally, the company has been experiencing massive growth and has heralded attention form Forbes, Bloomberg, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among others.

Most recently, it added to its growing list of accolades with an acknowledgement from state business advocacy group Colorado Business Roundtable. The Collaboration in Industry Award recognizes the Collective's unique business model of partnering with utilities.

We chatted with founder and CEO Paul Spencer to learn more about how his company is reaching the vast majority of Americans for whom solar panels remain out of reach:

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

1.) How does CEC provide solar for the community?

We build solar facilities that aren't on rooftops that consist of thousands of panels. Residents, businesses or government agencies can own or subsidize the panels and then receive the benefits on their utility bill. So in most cases they aren't receiving the energy produced by the panels, but we will produce energy on the customer's behalf and then the utility provider will credit that customer at a predetermined rate for each kilowatt-hour we product.


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Very few customers live close enough to the solar arrays to be plugged directly in to the power. There are different rules for who can participate based on what the utility provider says. For example, with Xcel, you have to be in the same county as the solar facility or a neighboring county.

For other utility providers, they simply require that you live in the service area for that utility. So our first array in the Holy Cross area served both Aspen and Vail, which are two hours apart. But they are in the same utility service territory.

Depending where you are, you can buy a panel that you physically own, and then get all the credits generated by that panel over its lifetime. Or you can do a pay-as-you-go model, which is what we've shifted to primarily. It's more like a subscription, like cable TV. You pay a percentage of what we save you each month.

The best way to explain it is that if you subscribe to 10 panels, that's enough to wipe out your utility bill on an average month. If they produce 100 hours of power, you're taking your bill to zero. You pay us 90 percent of that value. So basically you get 10 percent savings directly off your utility bill but are now physically supporting solar as opposed to fossil fuels.

2.) Why have the utility companies embraced you?

Utility providers have come to the realization that their customers do want solar and do want to participate. The companies want to come up with product that matches customers' desires. We get customers involved in solar but at a price point that makes sense for the utility. It's far cheaper for them than rooftop solar, which basically spins the meter backward.

We're doing solar under the brand of these utilities. We don't do that with Xcel, but in Fort Collins for example, community solar is their municipal utility program but it's completely owned and operated by us. Yampa Valley in Steamboat Springs is same thing.

3.) Where are your solar gardens?

All over the place. We have two in Boulder County, at Cowdery Meadows on Marshall Road. (Established in 2013, it was the first community-owned solar array in Xcel Energy's Colorado service area.)

Nationally, we have 80 operating facilities throughout the country in 15 different states with 33 different utilities, from Vermont to Washington. We have 23 solar array facilities in Colorado alone.

4.) How has the company grown since moving to Louisville?

We have about 7,000 customers, from low- to moderate-income families who might have a single panel or couple of panels all the way up to residential or commercial customers and large government customers. The City of Louisville is a large customer.

We do a lot of business in Massachusetts. TD Garden, where the Boston Celtics and Bruins play, they own solar in roughly 20 different facilities of ours: tens of millions of dollars worth of solar across many facilities.

We grow every year 100-300 percent. By June of this year, we had developed more solar than the past seven years combined. We could have said exactly that the year before. We're on pace for about 3.5 times growth for 2018. I couldn't have imagined anything better as far as growth.

Today we have maybe 110 employees, with probably 85 of those in Colorado, two dozen in Massachusetts and 10 around the country. We'll have 30 percent growth of our staff in 2018.

4.) Are there any challenges or obstacles to growth?

Awareness has always been a struggle. I meet people every day that aren't aware of community solar and don't know this option exists. Utilities need to, and in many cases have, started to support and embrace solar.

Shay Castle: 303-473-1626, castles@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/shayshinecastle