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County spends $1.3 million on solar energy

Eagle County spent $1.3 million for solar panels in an array at the Garfield County airport in Rifle. The county commissioners say it will save $90,000 a year on utility bills.
Special to the Daily |

EAGLE — Eagle County’s government will spend $1.3 million for solar panels that they say will save $90,000 a year on the county’s utility bills.

For that $1.3 million, the county bought 4,445 solar panels at Clean Energy Collective’s array at the Garfield County Airport in Rifle.

That purchase will add another 500 kilowatts of solar power to the county’s portfolio.



That’s the equivalent of pulling 125 homes off the grid forever, said Adam Palmer with Eagle County’s environmental health department.

The average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 10,932 kilowatt hours, an average of 911 hours per month, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.



To make the purchase, the commissioners dipped into the Eagle County’s reserve funds.

Sixth solar purchase

This is the county’s sixth solar purchase in the past two years, including installation of rooftop solar arrays on four county-owned buildings.



Between those four buildings, the county commissioners say it will reduce utility costs by more than $300,000 per year, for an annual return of 7 percent of the money invested to buy the solar arrays.

The commissioners say the county’s community solar projects offset all the electricity used at seven county facilities: the Eagle County Building, the Justice Center, the Eagle River Center, the Eagle County animal shelter, Lake Creek Village offices, the ECO Transit bus barn in Leadville and the Golden Eagle Senior Center.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also cutting county expenses ties directly to our strategic plan goals of protecting the environment and being financially sound,” said Commissioner Jill Ryan.

The commissioners’ stated goal is to cut the county’s greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent per year and by 50 percent by 2030.

Energy payback takes years

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 the idea.

Systems can take up to four years to offset the pollution required to manufacture and deliver photovoltaic systems. That’s 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 rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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