Officials, state rep tout solar’s power to diversify economy

Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, talks with Rifle Mayor Barbara Clifton as they wait for the tour of the large solar installation at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

Last week Colorado State Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, hosted a group of fellow legislators on a tour of economically significant sites in his district, starting with a stop at the large solar installation at the Rifle Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Will said the solar array was included on the tour to highlight the increasing amount of solar energy in Garfield County and the region’s leadership in using clean energy as an economic development strategy.

“It’s all about the diversification,” Will told the group, which included seven other members of the Colorado Legislature and other industry representatives assembled by the Colorado Competitive Council. 

He noted that he doesn’t expect to see solar power completely replace fossil fuels anytime soon but thinks adding it to the mix makes sense where it can be done cost-effectively.

Parachute Town Administrator Stuart McArthur spoke about the economic opportunity that clean energy offers, even in an area historically reliant on oil and gas. McArthur also serves as chair of Garfield Clean Energy, which organized the presentation at the treatment plant.

Rifle Mayor Barbara Clifton said that the city’s own facilities now run on 100-percent clean energy, thanks to the wastewater plant array and three other solar sites. “There are many things we want to do or might do, but it’s got to fit in the budget,” she said. The solar projects have “absolutely” saved the city money, and have the added benefit of locking in electricity rates for 20 years.

Katharine Rushton, renewable energy program director for Clean Energy Economy for the Region, explained that the Rifle wastewater site includes two solar arrays — one provides electricity for the wastewater plant and the other is a community solar garden — demonstrating the variety of community-scale solar business models that can be used to put city-owned land to work.

After the solar presentation, the group went on to tour Grand River Health and the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.

The tour was part of the Colorado Competitive Council’s annual Business Base Camp program, in which freshman legislators visit their respective districts to better understand the common interests and unique challenges around the state. Will selected the sites to visit in his District 57, which includes Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffatt counties.

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