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February 14, 2013
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Orchard to start growing its own electricity

A Carbondale church building is set to be home to the town's largest rooftop solar photovoltaic system - and one of the largest roof-mounted systems in the entire region.

The new 88-kilowatt (kW) system at The Orchard, which includes the popular Gathering Center venue for community events, is expected to generate 100 percent of the building's current electrical consumption.

And, through an agreement with Xcel Energy, the utility will pay the church 10 cents for every kilowatt hour of electricity produced beyond the building's needs, which will flow back onto the power grid.

That should give the church a consistent revenue stream to help offset the cost of the lease payments for the system, according to Sunsense Solar, the Carbondale-based installer that helped the church secure the necessary financing for the project.

Sunsense, which has been around for 24 years, specializes in putting together financing packages for both public and private entities to install PV systems under a lease-purchase arrangement.

Nonprofit organizations, in particular, can have a hard time paying the high up-front cost of installing solar equipment.

Sunsense provided the technical design for the system and coordinated the agreements between The Orchard and Xcel Energy.

A company called Sunpower Corp. provided the equipment and capital costs, using federal tax credits and other incentives that would otherwise be unavailable to The Orchard.

"The Orchard will use the electricity produced by the PV system, instead of purchasing the energy from Xcel, and make a monthly lease payment to Sunpower," according to a joint press release from the church and Sunsense.

"Sunpower solar panels produce more energy per square foot than other solar modules, and the solar panels are warranted to produce energy for 25 years," according to the press release.

At the end of the 10-year lease contract, The Orchard will be able to purchase the solar equipment at a greatly reduced price. It can then expect to continue to receive payments from Xcel through 2033 as an extra source of revenue.

The new PV system at The Orchard is on track to be operational by the end of February.

By comparison, the new PV system is the largest rooftop array in Carbondale. Two public buildings, the Carbondale Recreation and Community Center and the Third Street Center, both have 52-plus kW systems.

The largest PV system in the Carbondale area is on the Colorado Rocky Mountain School campus. The ground-based, 147-kW solar farm was also installed by Sunsense.

Elsewhere in Garfield County, the largest rooftop system, at 101 kW, is located at the Garfield County Fairgrounds riding arena in Rifle. And Rifle is also home to one of the largest ground-based solar farms in the country, at 858 kW.

In addition to the new rooftop system, The Orchard is also replacing nearly all of the lights in the auditorium and the Gathering Center. A total of 95 out of 105 lights are being upgraded to LED lights throughout the building.

Andy Lietz, who attends church at The Orchard and also works for Sunsense Solar, said the extra investment made sense.

"This was an economically sound decision on many levels," said Lietz, who spearheaded the project. "It will reduce energy costs by using at least 75 percent less energy than incandescent lighting, saving on operating expenses."

LED lights can last 35 to 50 times longer than incandescent lighting, and about 2-5 times longer than fluorescent lighting, and will also help reduce cooling costs because they produce less heat. The estimated annual electric bill savings to The Orchard will be about $4,000, Lietz said.

The Orchard has also signed up with the Garfield Clean Energy Challenge for Business, which will include a follow-up cost/benefit analysis and case study.

Lietz is looking into the costs to install an energy navigator at the church, which allows the public to monitor energy use and solar production.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Feb 14, 2013 12:44AM Published Feb 14, 2013 12:42AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.