Western Slope’s largest solar farm planned for Carbondale | AspenTimes.com

Western Slope’s largest solar farm planned for Carbondale

CARBONDALE ” The Aspen Skiing Co. and Colorado Rocky Mountain School hope to build a solar farm in Carbondale that would be the largest system of its kind on the Western Slope.

The Skico submitted an application to Garfield County for a solar electric system that will require about one acre of CRMS’s campus. Solar panel arrays will cover about 28,800 square feet, or one-half acre, of the site, according to the application.

“The proposed solar electric system at CRMS is a tremendous community asset and a feature that both the town of Carbondale and Garfield County can be proud of,” said the application, which a Carbondale company called Sunsense prepared. That firm will be hired to install the system, if it is approved.

Sunsense founder and president Scott Ely said a 147-kilowatt system is being proposed. The system would supply power to one of the primary buildings on the school campus and the rest of the electricity would be fed into Xcel Energy’s grid for use by other consumers.

The system would produce roughly 215,000 kilowatt-hours per year, Ely said. The “average” U.S. household uses around 11,000 kilowatts per year, so the system could theoretically produce enough electricity for 20 households per year.

The project could help cement Carbondale’s position as a solar energy hotspot. The town is home to Solar Energy International, a national leader in education and technical assistance on renewable energy systems. Several commercial businesses, such as Ely’s Sunsense, install solar electric systems on homes and businesses.

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The town government has embraced solar power and promoted it. Town Hall installed a solar electric system, as did the fire protection district.

The proposed system could serve as a model for other larger-scale system that Ely thinks will be built. Gov. Bill Ritter has made it a priority to promote the state as an alternative energy leader.

“We’re absolutely sure at Sunsense that more large projects will follow,” Ely said.

The project requires approval from Garfield County because the school property is outside the town limits. The Garfield County Planning and Zoning Commission will review the proposal on Nov. 14. It will go to the county commissioners in December. Adjacent property owners have been alerted about the project.

Ely said his firm designed as benign of a system as possible, but it will still be visible from Highway 133, to the east of CRMS. “It’s hard to hide [that size of system], particularly in an empty field,” he said.

The solar panel arrays will cover an area about 120 feet by 240 feet to the north of the Jossman building on the campus. A fence will surround the arrays to discourage vandalism.

“Within the fenced area, Sunsense will install three solar electric panel arrays,” the application said. “Each array will consist of 256 solar electric panels.”

The panels are made of bluish crystalline cells. The arrays will be mounted on galvanized pipe that’s anchored in concrete piers. The front of the arrays will be about 2 feet off the ground, while the back will extend to 12 feet. Small structures called “sunny towers,” which convert DC electrical power to AC power, will be built behind each array.

“It should be noted that there are minimal, if any, impacts to the adjacent neighborhood,” the application said. The campus is largely isolated.

Jeremy Simon, director of communications for CRMS, said town officials approached the school to gauge their interest in the project. School officials embraced the concept because sustainability plays a vital role in its education mission.

The solar electric system “basically allows us to practice what we preach,” Simon said.

In addition to providing the land, the school agreed to a long-term contract to buy energy produced by the system. It will pay at a fixed rate that is higher than the current market rate, but that rate is expected to fall below the market rate in the not too distant future. That arrangement helps pay the cost of installing the system, Simon said.

Details of the Skico’s agreement to provide electricity to Xcel weren’t available Wednesday.

Ely said the intent is to start construction as soon as approvals are in hand, so work could begin this winter, and the system could be producing in 2008.

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