Grand County: Colorado Governor’s Energy Office offers incentives for builders to use solar energy
February 15, 2008
Colorado is the fourth sunniest state in the United States, according the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office (GEO). This state has the potential to produce as much as 83 million megawatt-hours of electricity per year from solar technologies.
But at present, Colorado gets 98 percent of it’s energy needs from fossil fuels ” coal, oil and natural gas. The burning of these fuels spews carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which contributes to global warming, prices are soaring while accessible supplies of these fuels continue to dwindle.
The GEO was formed in 2007 by an executive order from Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to address global warming and energy shortages and to bring this state to the forefront in advancing energy efficiency and sustainability. The GEO works with communities, utilities, organizations and individuals to promote clean, renewable energy. Representatives from the GEO met with Grand County community leaders and citizens last week to spell out incentives that the state is offering to promote solar and wind power here.
A Shot in the Arm for Solar?
The GEO recently announced the launching of a statewide residential solar energy rebate program in response to a growing demand of homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint. Since 15 percent of the state’s energy consump[tion is used for domestic water heating, the GEO has decided to partner with interested towns, munincipalities, utilities and nonprofits by offering matching grants of up to $25,000 dollars (divided among the homes in that area expressing interest in installing solar) to develop domestic solar hot water rebate programs.
A total of $1 million dollars has been funded to initiate the program, which will be administered by the Colorado Solar Energy Industry Association (CoSEIA), a 227-member network of solar electric and solar hot water heater installers and dealers from around the state. Participating homeowners are required to provide documentation that an energy audit has been performed (because solar energy installation is basically useless if there are energy leaks in the home). To find out more, visit GEO’s Web site: http://www.colorado.gov/energy.
Photovoltaic solar refers to panels that are composed of cells containing a semi-conducting material, usually silicon, that converts sunlight to electricity. A PV array of panels must be oriented toward the south and angled to take in as much light as possible as the sun moves from east to west during the day and south to north throughout the year. If the PV solar system is “grid-tied,” connected to a system of power plants, transmission lines and meter readers, the electricity generated can be used as needed and the excess “net-metered,” resulting in a credit for the homeowner. Grand County’s electric power provider, Mountain Parks Electric, has offered a “buy back” programs for its customers for the past three years. MPE (annually) pays six cents per kilowatt hour to customers producing extra electricity.
If the PV system is off-grid, which is more common in remote locations where connection to the grid is cost-prohibitive, the excess power can be stored in batteries for later use.
Solar Power Needs Support of Government
With steep installation fees and a five- to 20-year wait for the solar investment to start paying for itself, homeowners and builders in Grand County have been reluctant to embrace solar energy. According to Jason Stigers, owner of Alpenglow Heating in Granby, the county’s only thermal solar systems provider, the most cost effective way to introduce solar into a home is with the installation of a domestic hot water interface heater, a $10-12,000 investment with a five to seven year payback (based on current energy prices). Solar thermal systems function by collecting heat from the sun in sealed tubes that contain water. The heated water is carried from a collector through a heat exchanger into a storage tank that holds anywhere from 300 to 1,500 gallons for space heating, or 80 to120 gallons hot and ready for showers, washing machines, dishwashers or hot tubs.
“The biggest brick wall I run into is the initial cost of installation,” says Stigers. “If the government started ‘walking their talk,’ more average everyday people could afford solar. Right now, normal families can’t justify the cost.” He adds that unless the government begins kicking down more grants and rebates, it will be only the weathly, environmentally conscious homebuyers who will invest in solar.
Stigers specializes in thermal solar, offering systems that can take care of 80-90 percent of a home’s hot water production. It wasn’t a far leap for him after spending 15 years working in radiant heating systems and 18 years in plumbing.
“The energy crisis that’s going on in the U.S. has created a trend away from fossil fuels and a shifting toward greener energy solutions, but the movement has a long way to go. It’s our responsibility to be more environmentally conscious or our kids and grandkids will suffer the loss of resources we’ve squandered and will not be able to enjoy the enviroment like we do today,” says Stigers, father of two boys ages eight months and three years. “I’m proud of my business, and one of my motivating drives is to impress on my sons what green is all about. I believe that solar will increase in popularity, and that hopefully one day, one of (my sons) will want to take (the business) over.”
For more information about solar thermal solutions, call Alpenglow Heating at (970) 887-1333.