Last piece of Snowmass Village solar project nears completion, helps town with sustainability goals
In early October, the town of Snowmass Village’s four-building solar project will be fully completed and online, bringing it one step closer toward its sustainability goals.
The project, which includes a series of solar panels at Town Hall, the Town Park bus station, the town recreation center and public works administration building, was approved by Town Council in spring 2019 and is part of both the town of Snowmass’ goal to reduce village greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the end of 2020 and the town’s overarching environmental sustainability plan.
“Overall we are going to be producing clean and renewable energy for most of our town facilities,” Travis Elliott, assistant town manager, said of the project, which has been completed in phases over the past year and a half.
According to Elliott, the completed solar project is expected to produce just over 70% of the energy needed at the four town buildings on average, with some months of the year and some buildings faring better than others.
Elliott said so far with the panels adjacent to Town Hall, officials are seeing better results than expected, with the locally produced solar power covering 100% of the government building’s energy needs on weekends and closer to 80% during the week in recent months.
The solar panels currently being placed atop the town public works administration building are the last of the overall project, Elliott said, and are expected to produce more than 100% of that building’s energy needs, which will result in the town getting some money from Holy Cross Energy.
“With the public works building production we will actually get a check from Holy Cross,” Elliott said. “… So the solar panels, the installation cost, the electrical work, everything (at public works) is around $250,000 and the system itself is anticipated to pay back that cost in 11 years.”
The overall upfront cost of the project is just under $900,000, Elliott said, and the town received grant money from organizations like Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) to help cover a good portion of it.
But really, Elliott said it’s like the town will be paid back each month for the upfront project cost with the money it will be saving on energy costs. The town also is a part of the Holy Cross Energy PuRE program — which allows town governments, businesses and individuals to become 100% clean-energy users by choosing to pay for a renewable energy source that offsets their non-renewable energy usage — and has utilized the energy co-op’s solar rebates, tariffs and other renewable energy incentives to make its four-building solar project possible.
But Mike Steiner, key accounts specialist with Holy Cross Energy, said that while Holy Cross has supported the town of Snowmass Village solar project, he feels the town deserves most all of the credit for it.
“I just think the town really took advantage of the rebates to make this project work, and they had space. But it was all really contingent on the town and what they’re looking at doing,” said Steiner, who also is a specialty member of the Snowmass Environmental Advisory Board (EAB). “We’re happy to assist through our rebates and programs but this was really the town and they should be commended for this awesome work.”
Phi Filerman, who also is an EAB specialty member and community sustainability manger for CORE, expressed similar thoughts.
She said CORE awarded Snowmass a $110,000 grant for the solar project, which the nonprofit feels will be very impactful because of its clean energy production and visibility to locals and tourists.
“The reason we really believed in the project was it had a great carbon impact and really showed how the town government is leading by example,” Filerman said. “We felt like it was a showcase project for that very reason.”
For Elliott, who is the town liaison for the EAB, the project has been years in the making and is great to see come to completion in an efficient, effective way.
“I honestly think the town would pursue anything and everything in terms of renewables as long as it makes sense, is responsible and is fiscally prudent. And in this case, I think this solar project checked all of those boxes,” Elliott said, noting that the progress of solar technology and renewable energy efficiency in general has contributed greatly to that.
Elliott went on to add that the EAB — a town board that uses the technical expertise and a broad community perspective of its members to develop recommendations concerning projects, programs, policies and operational practices that benefit the natural environment, the local economy and community, according to the town website — is currently working on an update for Town Council on how Snowmass Village is aligning with its 2009 sustainability plan and if it is set to meet its 20% by 2020 emissions reduction goal on time.
That update will be presented in early December, which is when the EAB will get feedback and direction from council before it begins its next task — creating an updated sustainability plan and new climate action goals for Snowmass.
“Fundamentally we want to put money where our mouth is and to walk the talk, be a good example of using renewable energy and trying to be as carbon neutral as possible,” Elliott said of the town of Snowmass Village. “That’s really tough up here in our climate but I think this four-part solar project is really going to be a good testament to solar and renewables and will really encourage everyone to look into it for themselves.”