Carbondale company wins contract for PitCo solar project

by M. John Fayhee, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Project’s 303 panels should be generating power by July

A Carbondale company, Sol Energy, has won the bid to install a 104-kilowatt solar-generation project at the Pitkin County Public Works Campus, located across Highway 82 from the airport.

The $230,000 project will mark the county government’s first foray into large-scale sun power.

According to County Engineer G.R. Fielding, the project will consist of 303 solar panels, 140 of which will be installed atop the fleet building, while the remaining 163 will be placed atop the road and bridge equipment garages.

“The amount of production is expected to offset the electrical usage for the entire public works campus,” Fielding said.

The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners approved the solar project in January and the request-for-proposals process began shortly thereafter.

The county government partnered with consultant Sunsense Solar to evaluate numerous solar sites and develop photovoltaic installation scenarios from which to choose.

Sunsense examined two potential designs for the public works facility, one using conventional model panels and the second using high-efficiency panels. It was determined that the economics of the high-efficiency models were not competitive with those of the conventional models.

Funding for the project will come from several sources.

The Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE), an Aspen-based nonprofit organization that promotes renewable energy, energy efficiency and green building in western Colorado and beyond, has offered to split the cost of installation with the county. The county also has in its possession $40,000 in alternative energy incentives from Holy Cross Energy, which has authorized this installation to generate a fee tariff. That stipulation allows the county to sell 
excess energy produced by the panels located at the public works facility back to the grid.

That should help generate an additional $250,000 over the expected 25-year life of the array.

“The array should produce an average of about 120 percent of the what the public works facility needs,” Public Works Director Brian Pettet said in January.

The extra 20 percent goes back to Holy Cross Energy, which pays for the power and re-sells it to their customers.

“This is the first alternative energy source to be completed on the generation side by the county,” Pettet said. “However, the county has purchased three fully electric cars and has installed several charging stations that are available for public use for free. This process started about two years ago, as the BOCC was interested in creating alternative energy production as well as alternative use.”

Ken Olson, who founded Sol energy in 2003, said his crews will begin work on the project on June 5 and it should be completed within about six weeks.

Olson characterized the public works solar project as “good sized.”

“We just completed a 435-kilowatt project over near Rifle,” Olson said. “And we just did one in Boulder that was 125 kilowatts. So this is somewhere in between. I think it’s great that Pitkin County is putting its money behind green kilowatt hours rather than brown kilowatt hours.”

According to Fielding, a total of five companies bid on the Public Works Campus solar project, including outfits from the Roaring Fork Valley, Eagle County and the Front Range.

Next in line on PitCo’s solar-generation calendar are projects at the county landfill and materials recovery facility.  

“Staff is looking forward to proposing a budget for [those projects] soon,” he said. “A bit will depend on timing of grants, the county’s budget cycle and a few other moving pieces at the landfill.”