Scott Condon
scondon@aspentimes.com

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November 17, 2014
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RFTA, Eagle County eye $5 million investment into solar farm


Two local governments are exploring a combined investment of $5 million to become owners in the next solar farm constructed by the Clean Energy Collective.

The Eagle County government is looking into a $3.2 million investment, according to Kris Friel, director of communications.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is considering a $1.97 million investment, according to CEO Dan Blankenship. If the deal is sealed, the bus agency will purchase 2,259 photovoltaic panels at a solar farm the innovative-energy company plans to construct along Catherine Road in Missouri Heights.

The Clean Energy Collective, founded by Roaring Fork Valley native Paul Spencer, is building a 1.7-megawatt facility at Sunny Side Ranch, near the former Carbondale landfill. The company also has developed solar farms near Blue Lake subdivision in the midvalley and at the Garfield County Airport. It’s working with utility companies throughout Colorado and a handful of other states.

Spencer developed a model where customers buy panels and infrastructure in the solar farm rather than the electricity produced. Holy Cross Energy and other utilities it works with give customers credits on their electricity bill for the power their share of the plant produces.

RFTA’s possible purchase would cover an estimated 94 percent of the electricity it purchases from Holy Cross Energy for use at its facilities. RFTA also buys power from Xcel Energy and the city utilities of Aspen and Glenwood Springs. About 55 percent of its power comes from Holy Cross Energy. The bus agency explored installing panels on the roofs of some of its facilities but determined that investing in a solar farm would be better.

“It’s just a lot easier and cost-effective to go this way,” Blankenship said.

The proposal supports RFTA’s goals of environmental and economic sustainability.

“RFTA will further diversify its energy production and hedge against future, unknown utility costs by owning a truly local, renewable energy-production system,” a RFTA staff member told the board of directors.

The board on Thursday approved RFTA’s payment of a $195,713 fully refundable deposit to the Clean Energy Collective and directed the staff to explore the deal with attorneys and the agency’s bond counsel. Blankenship said the proposal would come back to the board in January for final review.

“It’s kind of a legacy project, I think, for the board of directors,” he said. He predicted that people will view it in the future as a decision with foresight.

If approved, the cash from the deposit will purchase 201 photovoltaic panels. RFTA would arrange a lease-purchase agreement on 2,058 additional panels for $1,773,733.

RFTA’s number crunchers estimate the agency would save $5.89 million over 50 years through the deal. The net purchase cost of the panels would be $4.2 million. The total cost of buying electricity right from the utility would be an estimated $10.07 million over the same period, assuming a slight annual increase in electricity rates.

RFTA would own a 618-kilowatt system that would generate an estimated 1,128,504 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Friel said Eagle County also is performing due diligence on the proposal. It paid a refundable deposit, and the proposal will come back to the county commissioners for final review at a time that hasn’t been determined yet.

The Eagle County commissioners approved an environmental policy in May 2013 that targets significant cuts in energy use and promotes “sustainable practices” whenever possible. Specifically, the policy targets a 15 percent reduction in spending on energy, fuels, water and paper by 2015. It’s known as the “15 by 15” policy.

Clean Energy Collective aims to break ground on its latest solar farm in December. It would be interconnected with Holy Cross Energy’s system in January, according to collective spokesman Tim Braun.

The solar farm will have 6,100 solar panels, with a mix of 235 and 300 watts. The potential purchases by Eagle County and RFTA would cover nearly all the panels available.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Clean Energy Collective is building a 1.7-megawatt facility at Sunny Side Ranch, near the former Carbondale landfill in Missouri Heights.




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The Aspen Times Updated Nov 18, 2014 03:03PM Published Nov 19, 2014 09:52AM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.