Ranch becoming showcase of latest green technologies

Scott Condon

One of the oldest ranches in the valley is evolving into a showcase for some of the leading “green” technologies in the country.

The Two Mile Ranch has already got a cutting-edge photovoltaic system in place on the roof of one of its structures. Within a year, the owners hope to add a “micro hydro” plant that would generate more power than the homes on the property use.

Two Mile Ranch was formerly owned by cattle rancher Stanley Natal and his family. Natal dubbed it the Sitting Cat Ranch as a poke at neighbor George Stranahan’s Flying Dog Ranch.

After the Natals sold the property, the 245 acres were eventually purchased by an extended family for their own use. The county approved eight lots as well as some accessory buildings.

The ranch is already off to a good start toward the goal of contributing to rather than drawing from the conventional power grid. The barn gets the credit.

At first glance, it looks like a typical cool old ranch building or a replica of an old ranch building. The owners initially tried transporting the materials from a 150-year-old barn from Nowry, Penn., to be reassembled on the site. But the wood warped when it was transported to Colorado’s drier climate.

Anderson Architecture of Carbondale patterned the new 4,500-square-foot utility building after the historic Pennsylvania barn. Douglas fir was used for the timber frame while the barn siding was salvaged from standing deadwood, according to Eric Anderson, principal of the architecture firm.

What makes the barn unusual is the hundreds of photovoltaic tiles covering the 2,000-square-foot southern half of the roof. When the sun shines, it’s a 20 kilowatt system.

The hundreds of tiles are tied into seven inverters, which make the power produced by the solar project compatible with the utility grid.

“At the moment of connection, the meter began running backward with clean power,” Anderson said.

His firm enlisted the help of Solar Energy International, a renowned nonprofit organization based in Carbondale, to engineer and install the system.

Johnny Weiss, executive director of SEI, said that the photovoltaic roofing technology used at the barn has been used for about 10 years in Europe but is still rare in the United States. It was the first system of its kind that SEI ever installed. Weiss said he knows of no other such roof in the region.

The solar roof system is more expensive than conventional solar modules, the large panels often seen jutting out from a roof.

However, the tiles are also capable of producing more energy. Weiss said the Two Mile Ranch barn will produce enough power during a year to supply the equivalent of what four or five modest-sized, energy-efficient homes use in a year.

For that reason he expects that type of technology to become more popular as people seek alternatives to conventional energy.

An untrained observer would be hard-pressed to guess that barn’s roof is photovoltaic. The hundreds of individual tiles have a sheen but could be confused for slate shingles. They don’t stick out or draw attention like the large modules usually associated with solar power.

That low-key appearance was just what the owners were looking for, Anderson said. They were committed to using solar energy but wanted a more low-key approach than placing several modules on the roof.

The photovoltaic tiles also double as weather-tight roofing material that can replace metal or regular shingles.

While the barn’s performance is impressive, the proposed hydro-mill is eyed as the keystone to green development at the ranch, Anderson said. A 45 to 90 kilowatt system is anticipated.

The plan is to harness Woody Creek for up to seven months to produce power 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Anderson said. Part of the creek would be diverted and piped into the hydro plant, where water-powered generators would produce the electricity. All the water would be returned, which is why hydro power is touted as nonconsumptive.

The hydro plant has been designed by Anderson’s firm to resemble a historic mill, complete with a turning water wheel. Mills were historically used to grind grain.

The plant would also have a section where classes of students and other interested people could observe the turbines at work, Anderson said.

The building itself would boast green development. Like all the buildings at the ranch, it would use re-used timber frame or new beetle-killed pine. The siding and roof sheathing will be recycled products. The photovoltaic solar tiles will be used on the southern section of the roof.

Anderson Architecture won a 2002 design award from the American Institute of Architects Colorado West Chapter for the design. Anderson, who previously worked with Cottle Graybeal Yaw Architects, started his own firm about one year ago.

Anderson said the hydro-mill alone will offset most of the power demand at the ranch.

“The production level should exceed the demands of power from the full-time occupied residences, infrastructure and outbuildings with peak-time use during the holidays only requiring electricity drawn from the grid,” said a project description.

The hydro-mill is awaiting review by Pitkin County government.

Anderson and his team, Holly Hamilton, who is his wife, and Brian Kwekel, have incorporated numerous environmentally friendly features into buildings they have designed at the ranch. In addition to the barn and hydro plant, they’ve designed the manager’s residence and are working on another 3,500-square-foot building. They also restored a historic cabin and garage on the property.

More information about solar power alternatives is available at Solar Energy International’s web site: