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RFHS plans solar array

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Students’ idea

Sopris Sun Staff Report

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Acting on an idea from students, the RE-1 School District is poised to build a solar array at Roaring Fork High School that will save the district $400,000 in energy costs over the next 20 years, according to a press release.

The school’s Energy Club proposed the array last school year, following the town’s installation of a similar array at the Carbondale Nature Park (aka Delaney dog park). “Roaring Fork High School is proud to have students with the grit, integrity and curiosity to accomplish such an amazing feat,” said Roaring Fork High School Principal Drew Adams. “Energy Club members and their sponsor, Wendy Boland, have been championing energy reduction methods for years.”

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The RE-1 School District, CLEER, Carbondale Clean Energy 2020 and Sunsense Solar are seeking community input on the school’s proposed solar array.

The large array would be built with no upfront cost to the school district, and would produce enough electricity to meet 100 percent of the school’s electrical energy needs on an annual basis.

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The proposal will go before the Carbondale Board of Trustees for an endorsement on Aug. 26. A community open house to solicit feedback is set for 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 8, in the RFHS library, which overlooks the site of the array.

Sunsense Solar’s preliminary site plan depicts the array as five rows of panels mounted on ground-level framework. It would be located on vacant land on the south side of the high school. The array will produce 379 kilowatts of electricity, comparable to the amount of energy used by 76 average American homes.

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“This is not only great for the community, it also models the importance of being good stewards of the planet,” Adams said.

“The array will be visible from some neighboring properties and from Highway 133,” said Roaring Fork School District Assistant Superintendent Shannon Pelland.

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“We want to make sure neighbors understand the multiple values of the array. It will be educational for students, will save the school district money, and will help Carbondale meet its clean energy goals. We also want to hear any suggestions people might have about the design,” Pelland continued.

The array was downsized from what would have otherwise been needed, thanks to a major energy efficiency project the school district is doing this year. Upgrades to the school’s heating, cooling and lighting are expected to reduce electric usage by 20 to 30 percent, allowing a corresponding reduction in the solar system size.

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In June, Sunsense secured renewable energy credits for the project from Xcel Energy, through its highly competitive Solar*Rewards program. The renewable energy credit payments continue for 20 years, and are essential for the third-party financing arrangement set up to install the solar array, according to Katharine Rushton, commercial sales manager for the Carbondale-based Sunsense Solar.

Sunsense brought in California-based Sunforce Solutions International to pay for the project through a power purchase agreement (PPA). Roaring Fork will pay Sunforce a low, set rate for power generated, plus a minimal fee to Xcel Energy for backup electric service from the utility’s grid, according to Rushton.

“Bringing RFHS to net-zero for electricity will be a giant step for Carbondale to meet its clean energy goals,” said Michael Hassig, former mayor and a member of the Carbondale Clean Energy 2020 Technical and Financial Advisory Committee. “The high school is one of the single largest electrical users in town, and presents a great opportunity for more solar energy.”

The project is one of three large solar arrays in Garfield County that secured renewable energy credits this year from Xcel Energy through Sunsense. The other projects will power the water treatment plants serving the Battlement Mesa Metro District and the Town of Silt. Together, the three arrays add up to 1 megawatt of electrical capacity and represent a $2.3 million investment in solar energy.

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An array being installed on the roof of the Carbondale Branch Library by Colorado Mountain College students is also being funded in part by Xcel’s renewable energy credits.