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C’dale celebrates installation of three solar arrays

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Sopris Sun Staff Report

On Jan. 15, Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot untied the ribbon on an array of 356 solar panels that are now powering the town’s Roaring Fork water treatment facility.

“It goes towards Carbondale’s ongoing goals for green energy and offsetting our use,” Bernot said in a press release. “What more appropriate place than our nature park for a living example of what we hope to achieve? This array will offset 100 percent of our historic energy use at this water plant.”

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The town also installed solar arrays of 76 panels at the Public Works shop on Highway 133 and 208 panels at the Third Street Center. Together, the arrays will produce 158 kilowatts of electricity, offsetting about 200 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Like the water treatment facility array, the Public Works array will meet 100 percent of that building’s annual electrical use. At the Third Street Center, the new array doubled the size of the existing rooftop array, and together they are expected to supply 100 percent of the building’s annual electrical use.

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All three installations were financed by a power purchase agreement (PPA), so the town has no upfront costs and will only pay for produced electricity, the press release continued.

Bernot thanked the local non-profit CLEER, Garfield Clean Energy (a consortium of local governments), the private firm Hybrid Energy Group, town staff and others who helped the town get the systems financed, installed and operating.

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What’s a PPA?

The Environmental Protection Agency website says this about solar power purchase agreements:

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“A Solar Power Purchase Agreement (SPPA) is a financial arrangement in which a third-party developer owns, operates, and maintains the photovoltaic (PV) system, and a host customer agrees to site (put) the system on its roof or elsewhere on its property and purchases the system’s electric output from the solar services provider for a predetermined period. This financial arrangement allows the host customer to receive stable, and sometimes lower cost electricity, while the solar services provider or another party acquires valuable financial benefits such as tax credits and income generated from the sale of electricity to the host customer.”

CLEER and Garfield Clean Energy provided the upfront analysis for the town to find ideal locations for the solar arrays and to take advantage of the PPA financing model. Although the PPA model has been widely used nationwide for large solar arrays, its financial viability is dwindling due to reduced credits and rebates from electric utilities.

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“It was important that Carbondale take advantage of the PPA model while it was still viable,” said Alice Laird, executive director of CLEER (Clean Energy Economy for the Region). “It wouldn’t have worked if the town had waited even a few more months, so it’s great the town moved forward on this opportunity.”

Sunsense Solar, the Carbondale-based solar installer, designed and installed the solar systems. The water treatment plant array was mounted on the east- and west-facing building roofs, along with an innovative ground-mounted structure (Editor’s note: brought on by high ground water at the site) that supports the solar panels on tensioned cables.

“We wanted to do something a little unconventional, something in keeping with the creative spirit of Carbondale,” said Katharine Rushton, commercial sales associate with Sunsense.

Sunsense also coordinated the agreements between the town government, Xcel Energy and Hybrid Energy Group for the PPA financing model.

Hybrid, a Denver firm, provided the capital to cover the cost of the installations. As a private business, Hybrid can take advantage of the federal tax credit and accelerated depreciation of equipment that would have been unavailable to the town. “This third-party ownership of the system dramatically lowers the cost of produced solar electricity for the town,” the press release states.

Instead of purchasing electricity from Xcel Energy, the town will purchase the electricity produced by the solar electric systems, potentially saving as much as $200,000 ($10,000 per year) over the course of the town’s 20-year contract with Hybrid Energy Group.

Garfield Clean Energy and CLEER also worked with Sunsense and the town to connect the three solar arrays to the Garfield Energy Navigator. The Navigator is a public website that displays live and monthly energy data in graph form for more than 100 public buildings from Carbondale to Parachute.

To view the solar output from the new arrays, visit www.GarfieldEnergyNavigator.org, click on “Carbondale” and then click on the desired building. For live data, select the “day,” “week” or “month” buttons.

Hybrid Energy Group, LLC was founded in 2005 to facilitate investment in renewable energy systems that “benefit the environment and offer attractive returns to investors,” according to its website.

“HEG believes that clean energy production is one of the most important and challenging opportunities presented to our society today, and development of economically viable renewable energy sources is a compelling and productive avenue for achieving energy independence and reducing carbon emissions,” the website states. “We concentrate on solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, implementing a flexible development strategy to build a portfolio of clean energy assets that benefit our environment, enhance our energy security, and provide attractive returns to investors excited about renewable energy investment opportunities.”

The HEG management team is comprised of: George L. “Woody” Beardsley (president), Thomas Platt (vice president) and Ted Ramsey (director of energy services).

Sunsense Solar was established in 1990, according to its website, and “has grown into one of the premier solar electric design and installation companies in Colorado.” Sunsense provides turnkey services for solar electric systems of all sizes and specifications. “The Sunsense goal is to proactively build a long-term, sustainable business based on quality, consistency, credibility and service to our clients.”

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