Heather McGregor
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July 4, 2014
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Solar arrays set for Battlement Mesa, Silt, Roaring Fork High

Battlement Mesa Metro District, the Town of Silt and Roaring Fork High School will be sites for new solar energy projects under Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards program, winning 20 years of renewable energy credit payments for new solar energy projects.

Together, the three projects will produce 1 megawatt of electricity, and make the three facilities net-zero for electricity — producing at least as much electricity as they consume.

One megawatt is the amount of power typically needed for 200 homes. The new solar systems are expected to save the three entities about $770,000 in electricity costs over the next 20 years.

The Battlement Mesa and Silt projects will power water treatment plants, while the Roaring Fork High School project will power a school attended by 310 students.

California-based Sunforce Solutions International is paying for all three projects through a power purchase agreement (PPA), minimizing up-front costs for the governmental entities. Battlement, Silt and RFHS will pay Sunforce a low, set rate for power generated from the systems, plus a minimal fee to Xcel Energy for backup electric service from the utility’s grid, according to Katharine Rushton, commercial sales manager for Sunsense Solar, a Carbondale-based solar installer.

Sunsense worked with the three entities to design ground-mounted solar arrays that fit the sites, and to calculate the correct array size to meet 100 percent of each facility’s annual electric needs. Each entity also paid $3,500 in advance fees to apply for the Solar Rewards program.

The Roaring Fork High School array “was a student-driven effort,” said Principal Drew Adams.

“The RFHS Energy Club members and their sponsor, Wendy Boland, have been championing for energy reduction methods for years,” Adams said. “This is not only great for the community, it also models the importance of being good stewards of the planet.”

The RFHS solar array was downsized from what would have otherwise been needed because a major energy efficiency project is set for this year. Upgrades to the school’s heating, cooling and lighting are expected to save 20 to 30 percent on electric bills. The efficiency project was approved for funding by the Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District, after CLEER helped the Roaring Fork School District submit a grant application.

The Battlement Mesa Metro District and Town of Silt got started with their projects at a 90-minute workshop hosted April 7 by CLEER, Garfield Clean Energy, Sunsense and Colorado Mountain College, which explained PPA financing for solar arrays.

The Battlement Mesa Metro District provides water for 2,400 homes and businesses in the unincorporated community. District Manager Steve Rippy said the workshop motivated him to pursue solar to power the district’s water plant, and the district’s board of directors is fully supportive.

“From a common sense standpoint, looking at these incentives, you put in $3,500, and this company builds a solar array for you. It’s rated to crank out $270,000 in savings over 20 years. That’s a big number,” Rippy said. “I’m really curious to see what the ultimate savings will be.”

The Town of Silt is projected to save about $5,000 a year, or about 15 percent, on electricity costs for its water plant. The Silt plant draws about half as much electricity as the plant serving Battlement Mesa.

Mayor Rick Aluise attended the April workshop along with three town staff members, to size up solar for town facilities with high electrical use.

“We are very pleased that Xcel accepted the Town of Silt’s proposal for the Solar Rewards program,” Aluise said. “We still have to get the Silt Board of Trustees’ final approval to move ahead. But we are excited to have been chosen and are looking forward to the opportunity.”

The renewable energy credits awarded by Xcel Energy are essential for financing the solar arrays, Rushton said.

For the three entities, the next step is to have an attorney negotiate the actual PPA contract with Sunforce.


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The Post Independent Updated Jul 7, 2014 12:49PM Published Jul 7, 2014 01:57PM Copyright 2014 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.