Solar power projects flaring up all over Garfield County
Commissioners continue financial support for energy efficiency efforts, renewables
Solar energy production is taking off with relative light speed across empty fields and on rooftops in Garfield County.
Denver-based Pivot Energy this week announced that one of its newest “community scale” solar farms, located just southeast of Silt, will be ready to come on line next month.
The 20-acre, 2-megawatt (MW) solar farm is expected to generate enough electricity to power about 400 homes.
The site includes 5,000 solar modules, which serve as two projects in one, explained Nate Watters, communications officer for Pivot Energy.
One MW of power produced from the site will serve Xcel Energy customers in the area through local government purchases. The other 1 MW of power is reserved for qualifying low-income subscribers, he said.
The project is the result of a three-way partnership between Pivot Energy, the private landowners who are leasing the site, and Standard Solar, which financed the project and will own it.
A similar project is also coming online in Jefferson County later this summer. And, Pivot is still in the development stages to construct a 3-MW solar facility on about 28 acres situated between U.S. Highway 6 and Interstate 70 west of Parachute. Garfield County commissioners earlier this month gave approval for that project.
“Our continued partnership with Standard Solar has been a tremendous success as we work to meet the growing demand by Coloradans for more clean energy,” Jon Fitzpatrick, vice president of project development for Pivot Energy, said in a news release. “This is an exciting portfolio for us to develop that will support local jobs and create economic benefits for Garfield and Jefferson counties, while advancing the state’s clean energy progress.”
Pivot worked with Xcel to develop the Silt project as part of its Solar Rewards program, intended to help Xcel reach its renewable energy targets.
In addition, the Carbondale-based nonprofit Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), which also runs the Garfield Clean Energy (GCE) programs, helped the developers line up local government subscribers for the project.
“Without CLEER’s involvement, we wouldn’t have been able to find so many local subscribers to this project,” Fitzpatrick said.
Part of CLEER’s mission is to find renewable solutions for its GCE members, including Garfield County and local municipalities, which provide financial support for the effort.
“Solar energy is an important part of Garfield County’s economic development strategy,” Katharine Rushton, CLEER’s renewable energy program director, said of the new Pivot project. “This project will enable the local governments who have subscribed to cover their electricity needs with locally produced energy.”
And, providing access to low-cost solar energy is particularly helpful for lower-income households, she said.
Pivot’s projects are just part of an accelerating trend in Garfield County.
Recently, Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy announced its plans to build 20 MWs of new solar, including partnering with Colorado Mountain College for a 4.5-MW array at its Spring Valley campus.
GCE is also in the middle of a three-month campaign to install 1 MW of solar capacity via rooftop systems throughout Garfield County.
CLEER staff member Erica Sparhawk, who administers GCE, informed Garfield County commissioners last week that, to date, more than 350 customers have enrolled in the Solarize Garfield County program, including 80 on March 1 when the campaign launched. Since then, 56 rooftop or backyard solar panel systems have been purchased.
“The idea is, if a certain amount of solar is purchased, everyone who purchased it receives a discount,” she said. “We are exceeding all expectations in the enrollment numbers, and people are really eager to take advantage of the opportunity.”
The larger “community-scale” arrays, also called solar farms, differ from rooftop systems in that they are owned and operated by a third party and they typically follow a subscription model. Subscribers pay for the electricity they use and receive a corresponding monthly credit from their regular utility, GCE explained in a separate press release.
“Since subscribers are paying for a service rather than owning their own system, they aren’t liable for installation or maintenance costs, and the subscription is transferable if they move.
To help further that effort, GCE has used a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs — with matching funds from Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties — to map out potential community solar sites in the region.
That effort involved pre-screening potential sites that could host a solar farm, then reaching out to the landowners to make them aware of the potential to lease the land for that purpose.
“Having the map makes it easier for solar developers to find appropriate sites,” Sparhawk said.
Of the three counties involved in the project, Garfield County had the most potential sites indicated on the map, she said.
Also at the May 3 Board of County Commissioners meeting, the commissioners renewed the county’s $150,000 membership grant supporting GCE’s efforts to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy in the region.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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