RFTA, Eagle County eye $5 million investment into solar farm
Two area governments are exploring a combined investment of $5 million to become owners in the next solar farm constructed by Clean Energy Collective.
Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is considering a $1.97 million investment, according to CEO Dan Blankenship. If the deal is sealed, the bus agency would purchase 2,259 photovoltaic panels at a solar farm the innovative energy company plans to construct along Catherine Road in Missouri Heights.
Eagle County government is looking into a $3.2 million investment, according to Kris Friel, director of communications.
Clean Energy Collective, founded by Roaring Fork Valley native Paul Spencer, is building a 1.7-megawatt facility at Sunny Side Ranch, near the former Carbondale landfill. The company has also developed solar farms near Blue Lake subdivision in the midvalley and at Garfield County Airport. It’s working with utility companies throughout Colorado and a handful of other states.
Spencer developed a model where customers buy panels and infrastructure in the solar farm rather than the electricity produced. Holy Cross Energy and other utilities with which it works give customers credits on their electricity bill for their share of power the plant produces.
RFTA’s possible purchase would cover an estimated 94 percent of its current electricity use at its facilities between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, Blankenship said. The bus agency explored installing panels on the roofs of some of its facilities, but determined investing in a solar farm would be better.
“It’s just a lot easier and cost effective to go this way,” Blankenship said.
The proposal supports RFTA’s goals of environmental and economic sustainability.
“RFTA will further diversity its energy production and hedge against future, unknown utility costs by owning a truly local, renewable energy production system,” RFTA staff told the board of directors.
The board on Thursday approved RFTA’s payment of a $195,713 fully refundable deposit to Clean Energy Collective and directed the staff to explore the deal with attorneys and the agency’s bond counsel. Blankenship said the proposal would come back to the board in January for final review.
“It’s kind of a legacy project I think for the board of directors,” he said. He predicted that people will view it in the future as a decision with foresight.
If approved, the cash from the deposit would purchase 201 photovoltaic panels. RFTA would arrange a lease-purchase agreement on 2,058 additional panels for $1,773,733.
RFTA’s number crunchers estimate the agency would save $5.89 million over 50 years through the deal. The net purchase cost of the panels would be $4.2 million. The total cost of buying electricity right from the utility would be an estimated $10.07 million over the same period, assuming a slight annual increase in electricity rates.
RFTA would own 618-kilowatt system that would generate an estimated 1,128,504 kilowatt-hours of electricity.
Friel said Eagle County is also performing due diligence on the proposal. It paid a refundable deposit and the proposal will come back to the county commissioners at a time that hasn’t been determined yet for final review.
The Eagle County Commissioners approved an Environmental Policy in May 2013 that targets significant cuts in energy use and promotes “sustainable practices” whenever possible. Specifically, the policy targets a 15 percent reduction in spending on energy, fuels, water and paper by 2015. It’s known as the “15 by 15” policy.
Clean Energy Collective aims to break ground on its latest solar farm in December. It would be interconnected with Holy Cross Energy’s system in January, according to collective spokesman Tim Braun.
The solar farm will have 6,100 solar panels, with a mix of 235- and 300-watts. The potential purchases by Eagle County and RFTA would cover nearly all the panels available.
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