Big solar farm powers up
CARBONDALE, Colorado ” Gov. Bill Ritter heaped praise on Carbondale on Tuesday when it flipped the switch on the largest solar-electric system in western Colorado.
Although the solar array will produce a small amount of electricity compared to coal-burning plants, it is a great symbol for what Colorado needs to do to become a leader in the “new energy economy,” Ritter said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the system. About 300 people turned out for the ceremony.
“Really this project symbolizes so much about how we have to think about going forward,” Ritter said. “It is special because of the spirit of collaboration.”
The project was a collaboration between Colorado Rocky Mountain School, which provided the land, and the Aspen Skiing Co., which provided the financing. The town of Carbondale and nonprofit Community Officer for Resource Efficiency were integral to the planning.
Solar panels were erected this spring over about one-half acre of the private high school’s campus on the edge of Carbondale. The Skico invested $1.1 million in the system.
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“We understand that really it’s our responsibility to find cleaner ways to power our lifts. It’s that simple,” said Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan.
CRMS will buy some of the power generated by the system. The rest will be fed back into the grid via Xcel Energy. The system will produce 200,000 kilowatt hours annually ” enough electricity to power between 20 and 30 conventional homes.
Randy Udall, an energy expert from Colorado, said the project is both a “triumph and an example of how much work we have ahead of us to build a sustainable energy system.”
It will require a huge infrastructure to collect enough solar energy to match what is being produced by fossil fuels, said Udall, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The scale of renewable resources required “is pretty daunting,” said Udall. “But [the CRMS system] is a start and that is what’s cool about Carbondale. Carbondale is the leading solar city in Colorado right now.”
Ritter said other parts of the state could learn from Carbondale’s example. In addition to the new project, solar panels produce power on Town Hall, the recreation center, the fire house, the building at the town’s most prominent park, a bank and numerous private residences.
Solar Energy International, a renowned nonprofit organization that promotes energy conservation and renewable sources, is based in Carbondale, as well.
U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, another top Democrat in Colorado, also praised the Carbondale project at the ceremony. Democrats and Republicans championed energy independence in the 1970s, then the country fell asleep in the 1980s, 1990s and into this decade, Salazar said. As a result, the U.S. finds itself in a precarious position.
“America today is at the end of a noose hanging from a tree where that noose is controlled by the Middle East and those countries that have the global reserves of those fossil fuels,” he said.
Salazar said energy independence is an issue of national security, environmental preservation and economic opportunity.
It will take about 10 years for the Skico to recoup its investment, said Chief Financial Officer Matt Jones. But company officials said the investment wasn’t about making money.
Jim Crown, managing partner for the family that owns the Skico, said he is proud of the staff for taking a leadership role in sustainability issues. The Skico is recognized as an environmental leader in the ski industry.
“This is a small step but it is powerful because we are finally doing some things about alternative energy besides talking about it,” Crown said. “It’s not world-changing just yet. We’re not ready to change the name of the town to Carbon-free-dale.”