SPRING VALLEY, Colorado - By today, approximately one third of the electricity powering the Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE) shelter may be coming from the sun rather than conventional power plants.
And, perhaps best of all the benefits involved, this new source of power comes to CARE at only a fraction of the normal cost for such an installation.
On Friday, a crew of Colorado Mountain College students and their instructor, working with Sunsense of Carbondale, finished installing 36 solar panels on movable frames that will track with the sun next to the CARE compound, at 2801 County Road 114.
"Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to flick the switch and have the solar power come on today," said CARE Executive Director Leslie Rockey that day, as she prepared for a party to celebrate the installation and the help from Sunsense and more than a dozen other contributors.
"They won't actually be operational for another few days," Rockey explained.
But, she added, "It's going to save us a substantial amount of money. Any money that we can save, and put towards the animals, that's our ultimate goal."
She noted that the center has taken in more than 1,000 pets this year, including some left homeless by superstorm Sandy on the East Coast.
According to Isaac Ellis, a systems designer for Sunsense, the project would ordinarily have cost about $65,000 without any rebates or other subsidies, with a break-even period of up to 20 years.
But taking into account the donated equipment and time from Sunsense personnel, CMC students and equipment manufacturers, this project has ended up at less than $5,000 out of pocket for CARE.
"The system should cover about a third of their bill. It will pay for itself, I would say, within a year or so," Ellis said.
The project has been under way for months, Rockey said, ever since CARE board member Patrick McKibben came up with the idea and got together with Ellis.
It was Ellis who arranged for donated equipment and other contributions from 16 different companies.
In late August, Ellis said, Casey Concrete poured and finished three concrete pads to anchor three large, steel stanchions, which were fabricated by Garfield Steel in Rifle - two examples of the contributions to the overall project.
Local contributors, according to a list compiled by Ellis, include All-Phase Electric Supply of Glenwood Springs, Wagner Rents of Carbondale, Valley Lumber of Basalt and the Community Office of Resource Efficiency, among others.
The stanchions hold three sets of aluminum frameworks, made by Direct Power and Water of New Mexico. The stanchions support panels of photovoltaic cells made by SunPower Corp., which operates in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, according to the firm's website.
In the ensuing months, Ellis said, the crew has been doing work when it could.
"We had to make it work around our busy schedule," he said of himself and other Sunsense workers.
To complete the installation, Ellis turned to CMC solar tech instructor Chris Ellis (no relation), who gathered a crew of students made up of Jamie Bentzler, Mike Leatherby, Eric Severance, Jason Perpich and Jake Rautmann.
On Nov. 30, the group was clambering around the uprights and frames, attaching panels and, once they were fastened on, hooking up the electrical wiring and equipment.
Isaac Ellis, mostly observing from one side and offering advice when needed, said the lifespan of the array is approximately 20 years, and emphasized that the project was community based.
"Most of the people I talked to were eager to contribute," he said. "People like to be involved in community projects, and we're trying to highlight this project as a community project."
Rockey noted that the CARE facility has other energy efficiency attributes, such as passive solar lighting throughout the building and the use of super efficient light bulbs
"We're always trying," she stressed, explaining that environmental consciousness and compassion for abandoned or injured animals seem to go hand in hand.