Another option for solar farm at Garfield County airport | AspenTimes.com

Another option for solar farm at Garfield County airport

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. – Officials are edging ever closer to signing a deal to put a solar farm next to the Garfield County Regional Airport in Rifle, although exactly where it would go and other details remain unresolved.

The deal, with a firm called Clean Energy Collective (CEC), would call for construction of solar panels on land controlled by Garfield County and the Federal Aviation Administration, which has resulted in one of the hurdles faced by both the county and CEC.

CEC, based in Carbondale, hopes to build member-owned solar facilities at various sites around the valley, which could provide power to homes around the region.

The idea behind the company’s projects is that customers who are unable to install panels on their property can invest in one of the collective’s arrays, and then can get a credit on their energy bills.

One site went into operation El Jebel earlier this month, and the company has been talking with Pitkin County about other possible sites at the upper end of the Roaring Fork Valley.

The El Jebel solar array involves 340 solar panels and 13 investors who are Holy Cross Energy consumers from around the valley, said Paul Spencer, one of CEC’s principals.

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At a meeting on Aug. 9 with the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners, the CEC principals, Spencer and Mark Boyer, talked with the commissioners about getting permission to build a large array of solar panels on a flat parcel of land adjacent to the airport.

But at a meeting on Aug. 16, the commissioners were told that there may be another, better site for the panels, because the original site may one day be used to build an airport control tower.

“We can pretty much guarantee that the site they have is good for 20 years,” said airport director Brian Condie, referring to the site first selected for the solar panels.

But, he noted, the parcel also is a “prime site” for a new tower, and the FAA has the authority to kick the solar farm off the site if it deems it necessary.

As an alternative, Condie said, there is “a whole new area … that wasn’t available a year ago” when the CEC opened talks with Garfield County about the solar farm concept.

That new site, he said, was created when the county built a massive retaining wall as part of a project to lengthen the airport’s runway. It has a slope of 3:1, Condie explained, which would never be appropriate for aviation uses.

Should the CEC solar panels be erected at the first-choice site, and that site later be demanded by the FAA for a tower, Condie said it would cost an estimated $1 million to move the panels to the second site.

But if the secondary site works, he said, CEC could simply build the panels there and not have to worry about the FAA.

“Let’s do it now,” declared Commissioner John Martin.

The CEC is studying the matter to see if the panels can be made to work on the slope, and either Spencer or Boyer is expected to inform the county of the conclusion soon.

jcolson@postindependent.com