Scott N. Miller
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April 27, 2010
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Solar panels aimed at Eagle County landfill


EAGLE - Paul Spencer thinks he has the next big idea in alternative energy - setting up a system that allows home owners to buy shares in a big solar facility instead of putting panels on their roofs.

Spencer is the founder of The Clean Energy Collective, a Carbondale-based company that's trying to apply the idea of group buying to the solar energy industry. According to the business model, people in more homes will be able to buy solar power than can do so now. They'll also be able to buy in for as little as $500 instead of the several thousand dollars a typical home installation costs now.

Buyers are then able to take advantage of federal and state tax credits and rebates. Most will see discounts on their monthly power bills equal to the amount of power generated by their portion of the big facility.

The idea, Spencer said, is to make clean energy as easy as writing a check, then letting someone else deal with building and maintaining the system. The idea is also good for people with shaded roofs, or whose homeowners' associations prohibit rooftop panels.

Spencer and Lauren Martindale of The Clean Energy Collective Tuesday talked to Eagle County Commissioners Jon Stavney and Peter Runyon about the prospect of putting a large solar power facility on about 7 acres of land at the Eagle County Landfill. That property has already been filled with trash and is now covered by an earthen cap. Because of what's underneath, not much can be done with the land.

While the facility could ultimately generate enough electricity to light and heat up to 400 homes, the power would probably be mostly used by the county's new material recycling facility at the landfill. Other power would also stay close to the solar panels.

The reason, Spencer said, is because more power is lost the farther it's shipped over transmission lines.

The cooperative model for solar power is new. The Clean Energy Collective is ready to break ground on its first project, an 80-kilowatt station near El Jebel, in the next few weeks. The company is talking to local government officials about as many as six other sites around the region, but the one at the landfill would be by far the largest.

Runyon and Stavney both said they had favorable first impressions about the idea, but had several questions. Foremost is about the land, which the county leases from the Bureau of Land Management. Nothing will happen without the federal agency's say-so.

The commissioners had other questions about the depth of the piers needed to put the solar panels in the ground, site security and what the county gets out of the deal. And Stavney wondered if there might be future federal environmental regulations about capped landfills that might derail the project.

While those questions need to be answered before anything happens, Runyon said he could possibly be one of the first buyers.

"This is potentially a great project," Runyon said. "You have ideas that are potentially revolutionary."

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.




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The VailDaily Updated Apr 27, 2010 08:10PM Published Apr 27, 2010 08:09PM Copyright 2010 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.