Eagle County: Can sun power our airport? | VailDaily.com

Eagle County: Can sun power our airport?

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” In the future, a sunny, blue-skied day in the mountains could mean cheaper bills and a smaller carbon footprint for the Eagle County Airport.

The county wants to build a one-megawatt photovoltaic (solar energy) system that would provide electricity to power the entire airport. County staff are now talking to specialists and analyzing the cost.

The project would produce enough electricity to power about 250 homes. It would more or less completely offset the airport’s carbon footprint, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide produced each year by about 2,000 tons, said County ECOBuild Specialist Adam Palmer.

Several kinds of projects could work at the airport, including rooftop panels on the airport’s south side, panels on a future parking structure, or a ground system, he said.

No concrete numbers have been determined, but the project could cost between $6 million and $7 million.

County commissioner Sara Fisher said that the project is something they are still discussing and staff is researching the project to see if it would financially feasible.

While the airport’s south-facing roof might be an ideal location for a solar project, it can be difficult to weigh the costs and savings.

“We are definitely interested in trying to do things that are good for the environment, but there has to be a pay back to it,” Commissioner Arn Menconi said.

Right now the county already gets very good rates on its electricity, but it depends on the cost of the project, and cost of electricity over the years, he said.

“Experts think that electricity rates will double in the next few years. Then, if we’re locked into a contract with set rates, we’ll be covering our costs pretty fast,” he said.

The project would probably be built and owned by the energy company, which would sell power to the airport under contract.

If the airport went solar, it would be the biggest photovoltaic project on the Western Slope, said Scott Ely of Sunsense, Inc. in Carbondale, one of the consultants and potential builders of the project.

Denver International Airport is also building a two-megawatt solar-energy system, which will provide half the electricity for the airport.

Most of the solar-energy projects in the area are in the Roaring Fork Valley and Aspen area, but none are the size of the proposed project, he said.

Those areas use Excel Energy, which offers steep rebates and incentives for alternative energy.

Palmer said he sees more and more solar projects on both homes and businesses popping up.

“As far as a county, we’re in the forefront,” he said.

The county is also checking out wind energy as a possibility for the airport, Palmer said. There are also plans to solar-power the county building in Eagle, and build a geothermal heating system for the new justice center.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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