Carbondale seeks solar solution |

Carbondale seeks solar solution

Gina GuarascioCarbondale correspondent

While much of Garfield County is booming from gas and oil development, Carbondale is looking in a different direction for its energy needs.Question 2F on the Nov. 7 ballot asks voters to allow the town of Carbondale to issue up to $1.8 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds to construct and build two large-scale solar energy systems. The proposed systems would provide about 250 kilowatts of power. Voting “yes” on 2F will increase the town’s debt, but will not raise local taxes. Revenue from the solar systems will pay off the bonds over the next 20 years. And, under a provision of the 2005 Energy Incentives Tax Act, the federal government will pay the interest on the bonds.”The citizens of Carbondale will be the first community in the state to be voting on this. It’s a precedent-setting vote,” said Randy Udall, director of the Carbondale-based Community Office for Resource Efficiency.Carbondale trustees unanimously decided to pursue voter approval after the town’s advisory environmental board produced the Carbondale Energy Plan earlier this year. The plan outlines specific ways Carbondale can reduce its contribution to global warming.”The town can reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases, improve the environment, support the local economy and invest in a clean energy future,” said local energy consultant Joan Matranga.She said the town currently gets a majority of its energy from coal-fired power plants, which pollute the air and generate greenhouse gasses – a culprit in climate change.The town of Carbondale already boasts more solar capacity than almost any other municipality in the state. And that’s with only a 4-kilowatt system on the roof of Town Hall and a new 6-kilowatt system at the picnic shelter in Sopris Park. The proposed project would add 250 kilowatts to the town’s renewable energy portfolio.”We have a strong solar history with Solar Energy International bringing people from all over the U.S. and the world to learn about installing solar. We have Sunsense and now, Grounded Renewable Energy – all great solar installers – and (SEI co-founder) Ken Olson is also active,” said Matranga, mentioning a few of the renewable energy providers that operate in and around Carbondale. “We are a hotbed of solar action. These systems are the logical next step in making Carbondale a solar center.”The bonds will fund two separate solar projects, one 50 kilowatts and the other 200 kilowatts. The 50-kilowatt system will be at Carbondale Elementary School (the town is in negotiations with the school district to purchase the property) or the new recreation center, and the larger system will be at either Colorado Rocky Mountain School or at the town’s Roaring Fork water plant.In 2004, Colorado voters passed Amendment 37, mandating that large utilities produce 15 percent of their power by renewable sources by 2017. Xcel Energy is now building wind and solar farms to meet that mandate, and it is offering incentives and rebates to people installing small residential systems.Xcel Energy also has agreed to provide Carbondale with $300,000 in immediate rebates for its proposed solar project, and to purchase $1.2 million worth of solar energy credits over the next 20 years. The town will own the solar energy systems, and municipal buildings and area schools can use the electricity they produce.The solar energy system will continue to operate long after it is paid off, Matranga said, making it an asset to the town, especially considering the uncertainty of energy prices and availability in the future.”All of a sudden we were looking at an attractive investment that we couldn’t have imagined last year,” Udall said. “There’s no guarantee that the stars will come into alignment like this again.”

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