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The power of sun

Post Independent/Kelley CoxVictor Guillot, foreground, and Marty Schlein install solar modules at Schlein's Carbondale workshop, Blue Sky Woodcraft, Tuesday morning. Guillot and his wife Leslie own and operate SolSierra in California.
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CARBONDALE – Packed with giant band saws, a massive lathe that dates to before World War II and other high-powered wood sculpting equipment, Marty Schlein’s Blue Sky Woodcraft is a testament to the passions of a craftsman. Below a shining white and blue wooden whitewater dory Schlein built by hand for navigating the chaotic rapids of the Grand Canyon, a thin plywood sign declares the place a “temple of fine woodworking.”Schlein is known for building boats and fine furniture, but soon he and his business may be known for his other passion: operating his home and business with renewable energy and reducing his “carbon footprint.”Most of the electricity powering the lights in the Roaring Fork Valley comes from coal-fired power plants which pollute the atmosphere to some degree. Because of the scarce availability of “green” energy, most valley residents have no other choice but to use electricity generated from a non-renewable resource. Schlein wants to take the first small step to change that. Blue Sky Woodcraft is one of the first businesses in the Roaring Fork Valley to install a solar, or photovoltaic, power system that will generate enough energy to power the business while selling the excess electricity to Holy Cross Energy. He also heats his shop with an unrelated solar hot water system. With the help of Victor and Leslie Guillot, owners of Avery, Calif.-based solar power system business SolSierra, Schlein spent Tuesday morning installing three large solar panels, part of a $28,000, 4-megawatt photovoltaic power system that’s impossible to miss from Garfield County Road 100, the highway that snakes past Blue Sky Woodcraft. Schlein plans to power his shop – including all his saws – and his home next door with the three solar panels, and he says he’ll have some energy left over to sell to Holy Cross. It’s a “grid-tied” system, Guillot said, which means that the Holy Cross electric grid acts as a “battery.” While the solar cells are producing energy during the day, Schlein’s meter will run backwards, generating electricity for the entire grid. At night, Schlein will draw power from the Holy Cross grid, Guillot said. No actual batteries to store the solar energy are involved, he said. Schlein said he wants to be an inspiration for other Roaring Fork Valley residents and businesses to reduce their “carbon footprint” and jump on the solar bandwagon. “If I don’t do it,” he said, “nobody else is going to do it.”Most of Holy Cross’ electricity is generated from the Haden and Craig coal-fired generating stations, said Holy Cross member services representative Craig Tate. Other power plants on the Western Slope and in the Four Corners region, including Cameo and the Shoshone hydroelectric plant in Glenwood Canyon, also provide energy to Holy Cross. Though the price tag is high for a photovoltaic system, Schlein said he was encouraged to do it because of federal and local incentives for homes and businesses to install solar energy systems. He said he expects to recoup the cost of the system over about six or seven years.He said his system will go on line Jan. 1, when he’ll be eligible for a federal tax credit for using a solar power system.Under the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005, those who begin using a photovoltaic power system in their homes after Jan. 1 will be eligible for a 30 percent tax credit up to $2,000. Holy Cross offers a $2-per-watt rebate up to 25 kilowatts per installation for those who generate renewable electricity using wind, hydroelectric, solar, biomass or geothermal technology.The Aspen-based Community Office for Resource Efficiency will give Roaring Fork Valley residents with photovoltaic systems a $2-per-watt cash rebate up to $6,000. CORE also offers a zero interest loan for photovoltaic systems. CORE Associate Director Gary Goodson said using solar power symbolizes “forward thinking,” while participating in a movement that insists on using a power source that doesn’t contribute to global warming. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “It keeps the carbon out of the air.”Tate said that despite the advantages of solar energy, only about 25 Roaring Fork Valley residents – and no businesses that he was aware of – are using photovoltaic systems connected to the Holy Cross grid, most of which produce 2.5 kilowatts or less. Despite the incentives for using solar power, Tate said he’s skeptical of the economics of such systems. “It’s not an economical decision,” he said. “Photovoltaic is still an expensive way to go solar. You don’t have reasonable payback on a system.”The economics of photovoltaic notwithstanding, using such a system makes a statement and will help drive the market for solar power, Tate said.”Remember when the first calculators came out they were $300 a piece?” he said, adding that after everybody started buying them the price plummeted to a few dollars each. Solar will go the same way if more people turn install photovoltaic systems. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said. Regardless of the incentives, for those whose budgets can’t include solar, Holy Cross spokesman Bob Gardner said the co-op has other options for consumers. But they’ll have to wait a while. Holy Cross offers the Wind Power Pioneers Program, which allows consumers to buy 100 kilowatt blocks of wind-generated electricity for $2.50 per kilowatt hour in addition to their regular electric bill. There’s also the local renewable power pool option, Gardner said, which allows consumers to buy electricity generated at local hydroelectric plants, such as Shoshone. All available electricity in both programs is currently sold out, he said. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. 520bmagill@postindependent.com


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