Colorado could soon be stepping up its solar energy game, with the recent advancement of a proposed 333,000-panel facility in farm fields south of Bennett that would light up as many as 16,000 homes.

Arapahoe County commissioners last week approved a permit for the 75-megawatt Hunter Solar project, which would rank as Colorado’s second-largest solar farm after the 120-megawatt Comanche solar site near Pueblo. By itself, the new farm 30 miles east of Denver would boost the state’s solar power portfolio by nearly 8 percent.

“This is certainly one of the largest solar projects in Colorado and the largest we’re aware of in the metro area,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. “It’s another sign that solar is becoming a mainstream form of energy.”

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Colorado ranks 11th nationally for installed solar capacity — including residential rooftop and solar gardens — with 974 megawatts. Nearly 200,000 homes are powered by solar-generated electricity, and the industry employs 6,789 Colorado workers. The solar energy sector is a $2.8 billion business in the state.

“It’s becoming more the norm to see big projects,” said Joseph Pereira, director of low-income and residential energy services for the Colorado Energy Office. “We’re seeing a maturing market in Colorado and strong value propositions for all parties involved.”

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