Mountain Valley throws switch on solar energy system |

Mountain Valley throws switch on solar energy system

Heather McGregor
Post Independent Editor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Heather Johnson flipped two switches Friday morning and officially turned on the new solar electric system on the rooftop at Mountain Valley Developmental Services.

“Cool!” said Johnson, a Mountain Valley client and Glenwood Springs resident, after being asked to carry out the ceremony.

In truth, the solar electric system has been producing clean electricity for about a week, according to Bruce Christensen, executive director of the nonprofit agency. He’s been checking the system’s inverter several times a day to see how much energy it is producing and how much carbon dioxide it is keeping out of the atmosphere.

“By the end of a year, we will save 100 tons of carbon dioxide,” said Christensen.

“With a system like this, you can really take carbon reduction into your own hands,” said Isaac Ellis, small system project manager for Sunsense Solar of Carbondale, the installer of the system.

Mountain Valley’s solar system is rated to produce 10 kilowatts of electricity under maximum solar conditions. In its first week, it had already produced 362 kilowatt-hours of electricity, the measure of electricity used for billing.

Over the course of a year, the system is expected to produce at least one-third of the electrical needs for Mountain Valley’s offices, classrooms and greenhouse in South Glenwood and save the nonprofit $1,300 on its electric bills.

While a “toast and tour” celebration held Friday focused on the new solar system, the project also involved a new roof and lighting upgrades for the 90-year-old building.

“We didn’t think it made sense to put panels on a 32-year-old roof that had a 30-year life,” Christensen said.

The new roof – a bright tomato-red metal roof that replaced the old, somewhat leaky, faded red roof – cost $49,884. A $25,000 grant from the Aspen Community Foundation paid for half the cost of that upgrade.

Mountain Valley also worked to reduce its overall electric demands so the solar system could offset more of its electric usage. With the help of the Garfield Clean Energy Challenge, Mountain Valley replaced its older office and greenhouse lighting with more efficient ballasts and bulbs. The investment cost $8,735, but a Garfield Clean Energy rebate paid for $5,000 of that cost.

About half the cost of the solar system was also paid for by rebates. The system cost $51,250 to install, and Mountain Valley received a $10,000 rebate from the Governor’s Energy Office, a $15,000 rebate from Glenwood Springs Electric and a $3,000 rebate from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency.

That left Mountain Valley’s out-of-pocket cost for the solar system at $23,250.

The new system boosts a much smaller solar electric system already in place atop the Mountain Valley greenhouse, funded at the time by the Aspen Skiing Co. Environment Foundation. The agency also rents space in the solar-powered Third Street Center in Carbondale.

Now staffers are looking at installing solar energy at the agency’s facility in Silt, a former church that has a large south-facing roof.

“We have to build up our cash reserves again, and then we’ll look at the Silt facility,” said Christensen.

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