County plans solar power project that would power hundreds of local homes
January 31, 2019
Down County Road 5 sits a plot of almost seven acres where Grand County plans to build enough solar panels to power hundreds of homes. It is just one of several solar projects being considered within the county.
Solar is a popular renewable energy source in Grand County for many reasons, including that the county's geography is perfect for producing solar energy, as well as the cost-efficiency and durability of solar panels.
"The whole state of Colorado and especially Grand County, with our altitude and our 300 plus days of sunshine, we're the perfect solar state, geographically speaking," said County Commissioner Rich Cimino. "I think that should really be something we invest in with partners, a public-private partnership, electric utilities. We could build out a lot."
Currently, the county's project to develop around five to 6.75 acres of panels, which will power around 300 homes throughout the county, is going through the process to receive a special use permit before heading to the county commissioners for approval Feb. 19.
The town of Fraser is also planning a solar project at its pay-as-you-throw trash and recycling center, the Drop. Assistant town manager Michael Brack said putting solar panels at the Drop makes sense because it matches the sustainability mission promoted by the center and is cost-effective for the town.
"The Drop is there as a sustainability issue for the town and it's definitely complemented by being powered on site by a solar system and I think it's a really great way to promote sustainability in the town of Fraser," Brack said. "Once we actually get it installed, we will start saving money."
The solar panels at the Drop will fully power the surveillance system, lights and workspace year-round.
In 2016, Fraser committed to reducing greenhouse gas levels by 20 percent of the town's 2014 level. Introducing solar energy helps the town reach that goal while promoting sustainable efforts, Brack said.
That's also why Fraser is considering solar projects at its new wastewater treatment and public works facilities, though nothing has been confirmed.
"We definitely want to see if there are any opportunities, if the cost analysis makes sense, if the economics make sense then I think it will be an easy win to make the buildings as energy-efficient as possible while hopefully making them solar, but that's going to be something that comes down the line," he explained.
Devil's Thumb Ranch is currently partially powered by four solar sites across its property. The energy generated from these sites powers the ranch's wastewater treatment plant and contributes to power for the High Lonesome Lodge and the ranch's spa.
Ultimately, solar powers up to 35 percent of Devil's Thumb Ranch's electrical needs.
"It's a pretty sizeable amount of energy that we offset with the solar panels, for sure," said Ryan Sole, director of facilities for the ranch. "They're super effective, especially in this climate."
In order to take advantage of the solar energy generated, Sole said the ranch also converted all of its outdoor lighting to use direct current (DC) electricity, which is the type of energy generated by the solar panels. Usually DC electricity is converted into alternating current (AC) electricity, which is more commonly used, but in the conversion energy is lost, Sole explained.
Sole said the solar panels have been successful because the ranch saves money on electricity and there is almost no upkeep cost, unless something is damaged. He added that the panels are durable, even lasting through hail and snow storms.
"The biggest thing we look at is it being a renewable energy source because there's a lot of green initiatives out here," he said. "We also don't spend as much on an electricity bill. (…) The only disadvantage is the upfront cost."
According to Mountain Parks Electric, 33 percent of its power supply is renewable and it hopes to continue growing that number. The electric cooperative has an agreement with a solar project to be built in Jackson County to power around 300 homes and is negotiating a similar agreement in Grand County.
Mountain Parks Electric general manager Tom Sifers said the electric cooperative is trying to take advantage of opportunities to get power from local renewable projects to meet member desire for renewable energy.
It also offers members who install renewable energy systems rebates through its Green Power Program. In 2018, Mountain Parks Electric gave over $34,000 in rebates to members through this program.
"It is important to MPEI to be able to respond to the requests of our membership for local, renewable generation projects," Sifers said.