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Solar Energy International to shine down on Paonia, too

Lynn Burton

Solar Energy International is expanding to Paonia in August, in part because its Carbondale headquarters is bursting at the seams.

“In the last three years, interest in renewable energy is on the rise,” said Solar Energy International Project Coordinator Ed Eaton. “We’ve wanted to expand to the other side (of McClure Pass).”

Solar Energy International is a nonprofit group that shares the former Carbondale town hall building with community radio station KDNK and the nonprofit Roaring Fork Energy Center.

Solar Energy International’s job is to “provide education and technical assistance so that others will be empowered to use renewable energy technologies,” according its mission statement.

During the past 12 years, SEI staff members have delivered services to foreign, national and state governments, plus the Pan American Health Organization, and to universities and individuals.

Every year, students come to Carbondale to take workshops such as photovoltaic design and installation, micro-hydro electric systems, solar home design, and straw-bale construction.

Eaton said SEI’s workshop enrollment averages 250 to 300 nationwide each year, with 175 of those students taking classes in Carbondale. People who pass by the SEI headquarters on Second Street have seen everything from photovoltaic panels sprouting in the parking lot, to solar cooking displays and straw-bale construction demonstrations.

Besides its workshops, SEI can also plan, engineer and implement sustainable development projects in fields such as health care, agriculture, education and economic development.

Eaton said the Paonia operation will start with a showroom for solar and wind powered installations. Later, small scale workshops will be offered at the Paonia site.

Eaton said there are several reasons SEI chose Paonia for its first expansion site. For one thing, real estate and the costs of doing business is lower there. Solar Energy International also has staff members who live in Paonia and work out of their homes.

For the future, SEI is looking at several options. The vision includes a five- to 10-acre campus with classroom and administrative space and housing for students and staffers.

“We have looked at some potential sites, but they didn’t work out,” Eaton said, referring to searches in the Carbondale area.

When nonprofits and businesses start looking for reasonably priced property in the Roaring Fork Valley, they sometimes start gazing south toward Paonia. When asked if SEI might eventually shift its operations to Paonia, Eaton said, “That very well could be,” although there are no plans at present to make that move.

“We’re still exploring Carbondale opportunities,” Eaton said. “We feel good about Carbondale.”

With SEI’s Carbondale headquarters crowded to capacity, and with cheaper land available 60 miles to the south on the other side of McClure Pass, one option might be for the group to build its campus in the Paonia area or elsewhere, but keep administrative offices in Carbondale.

“That’s something we’ve always considered,” Eaton said.


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