Valley’s largest solar array goes online in Missouri Heights
The switch got flipped last week on the newest and largest solar array constructed so far in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Clean Energy Collective’s Sunnyside Ranch Community Solar Array is a 1.8-megawatt project off of Catherine Road in Missouri Heights. The site is adjacent to the former Carbondale landfill, roughly 6 miles northeast of the town.
The 6,107 panels in the array cover 11 acres leased long-term to CEC by Rich and Mary James, who have deep roots in the valley. Holy Cross Energy is using the electricity produced by the array. It gives credit to the energy consumers who bought panels at the project. Eagle County government and Roaring Fork Transportation Authority are in the process of finalizing purchases that will use much of the capacity of the array. A limited supply of panels remains available to the public. CEC anticipates they will be sold out by the end of April, according to David Wiedinmyer, vice president of product management. Investors must be customers of Holy Cross Energy.
A Carbondale company called Sunsense Solar constructed the vast array over about four months. The winter wasn’t great for skiing, noted Sunsense owner Scott Ely, “but it’s been great for building solar.”
CEC and Sunsense planned the project for 1½ years, according to Ely. “The assembly is the easiest part,” he said. “Well, I wouldn’t call it easy, but it’s the least amount of brain damage.”
The firm had a full-time crew of six workers on the job while it was undertaking other projects in and outside of the valley. Subcontractors from Rifle, Aspen and Denver employing several additional workers were hired for specialty chores such as pounding in the piers for the long rows of panels and some of the assembly.
The array was constructed so the panels track the sun as it moves east to west. When you visit the site, the panels are like flowers in a mountain meadow reaching up for the nourishing sunshine. Majestic Mountain Sopris dominates the view to the south.
The tracking technology increases the production of the array by up to 25 percent, according to Ely. The power generated by Sunnyside Ranch is roughly equivalent to the energy consumption of 300 average homes.
Over its projected lifespan, the solar array will produce about 150,000,000 kilowatt-hours of local, clean energy, Wiedinmyer said. That is the equivalent of avoiding the addition of 132,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
In other terms, the array’s reduction in carbon emissions will be the equivalent of avoiding roughly 300 million vehicle miles driven and the equivalent of planting over 400,000 trees.
Customers who buy into the community solar array will save $60 million in energy costs over the array’s lifespan, according to Wiedinmyer.
CEC was founded in El Jebel by valley native Paul Spencer. His theory was to develop solar arrays and allow utility customers to buy into them so they wouldn’t have to physically install solar panels on the roofs of their homes or businesses. Some sites have physical restrictions such as shade. Others have man-made restrictions, such as strict homeowners’ associations.
But making it easier to sign up for solar was only half the battle. Spencer’s real coup was designing software that “automatically calculates monthly credits for members and integrates them with the utilities’ existing billing system.”
The only way utility companies were going to sign on with CEC was if there was an easy way to credit their customers for the electricity produced by their share of the solar arrays. Holy Cross Energy, which serves parts of the Roaring Fork Valley and I-70 corridor, was the first utility to embrace the concept. It is buying energy from CEC’s 77,740-watt Midvalley Solar Array in El Jebel and the 858,000-watt Garfield County Airport Solar Array.
Overall, CEC has 34 projects involving 15 utilities. CEC maintains the solar arrays at no additional cost to the home and business owners that buy in. Panels are available at Sunnyside Ranch and the Garfield County airport array. For more information, go to CEC’s website at http://www.easycleanenergy.com/default.aspx.
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