County approves solar electric project funding
September 4, 2014
EAGLE — A new county solar/electric project will save $10,000 a year and take 11 years to pay off, county officials said.
Active Energies in Minturn won the bid to install 276 photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Eagle River Center at the Eagle County Fairgrounds.
The project will cost about half of what was originally budgeted, and generate all the electricity the building needs, said Adam Palmer, Eagle County's environmental policy planner. The Eagle River Center project will generate 77 kilowatts of electricity.
"This is an ideal solar site," Palmer said.
Solar World Sun Module in Hillsboro, Oregon, is the manufacturer, and the system is guaranteed for 25 years.
Active Energies is hoping to have the Eagle River Center project completed by mid-October.
The 11-year payback calculates a 4 percent inflation rate on energy costs, Palmer said.
The county originally budgeted $497,000 for a 225 kilowatt project, but retooled it into three smaller photovoltaic projects when that one fell victim to the recession.
For all three projects, the county will spend 50.8 percent of the $497,000 budgeted, Palmer said.
"The projects will come in under budget because it's such a competitive market," Palmer said.
The Eagle River Center project will cost $127,500 to build. The rest will be spent on the county buildings on Broadway in Eagle and will generate 45 kilowatts.
There's already a similar system on the Eagle County Justice Center, installed when that building was renovated.
The county's long-term vision is for net-zero utility costs. In the short term the county is trying to cut its energy use by 15 percent by the end of next year.
Photovoltaic arrays are also being considered for the Eagle County landfill, and possibly the airport.
"They're located all over DIA and other airports. If there was a concern about glare, they would not be there," said Jason Weingast with Active Energies.
A U.S. Department of Energy study says the environmental benefits of photovoltaics are pretty great.
But just as it takes money to make money, it also takes energy to save energy. The term "energy payback" captures this idea.
To offset the pollution required to manufacture and deliver photovoltaic systems can take up to four years, called the energy payback, the Energy Department study said.
With energy paybacks of one to four years and assumed life expectancies of 30 years, 87 percent to 97 percent of the energy that photovoltaic systems generate won't be plagued by pollution, greenhouse gases and depletion of resources, the study said.
"Based on models and real data, the idea that PV cannot pay back its energy investment is simply a myth," the study said.
The research found that photovoltaic systems fabrication and fossil-fuel energy production have similar energy payback periods, including costs for mining, transportation, refining and construction.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.