Eagle County: Company plans solar farm in El Jebel | VailDaily.com

Eagle County: Company plans solar farm in El Jebel

A company that hopes to revolutionize renewable energy in the Roaring Fork Valley has secured land in El Jebel, Colorado for its first solar farm.

Clean Energy Collective (CEC) signed a lease for a 0.4-acre site at the Mid Valley Metropolitan District’s wastewater treatment plant along Highway 82 near Blue Lake, according to Paul Spencer, founder of the energy company.

“We felt that will be a good pilot site,” he said.

CEC plans to build an 80-kilowatt solar farm at the site. That is relatively small in the solar farm world, but with nearly 400 solar panels it will be the second-largest array in the Roaring Fork Valley. A 150-kilowatt system was constructed two years ago at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale.

CEC’s first solar farm will cost about $500,000, Spencer said. In the best-case scenario, construction will start in late spring and the site could be operational in June, he said.

Mid Valley Metro gave CEC a long-term lease at a low cost, with options to renew. The water and sewer district’s board of directors support the idea of renewable energy and felt CEC’s solar farm would be a good use of the land, said Nick Looper, president of Mid Valley Metro’s board of directors.

“We had been discussing clean energy for pushing two years now,” Looper said.

Mid Valley Metro will consider buying into CEC’s solar farm itself, depending on pricing, Looper said. However, that’s not a requirement of the lease. The board approved the lease April 14.

CEC is working on plans to build up to five additional solar farms in the region, all of which would be larger than the one at Mid Valley Metro’s site. The other planned solar farms will range between 500 kilowatts and 2 megawatts, Spencer said.

CEC is launching a new model in renewable energy that is targeted to residential and commercial customers of Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy. Homeowners and property owners will buy solar panels in the solar farms rather than buy energy. The owners will get credits from Holy Cross for the energy produced by their share of the solar farm. Holy Cross is working on a contract with CEC.

The concept is expected to appeal to property owners who cannot install solar panels at their homes or businesses because of physical barriers, like shade trees, or political barriers, like hostile homeowners’ association.

Spencer said he is getting four to six inquires per day from potential buyers. CEC is creating a waiting list but isn’t collecting deposits yet. The 80-kilowatt array will supply electricity for between 25 and 35 customers, he said, so it will be easy to sell out.

“People won’t have to wait at all for the other sites,” Spencer said. He hopes to start work on additional solar farms later this year. He wouldn’t disclose the other potential sites because land and government approvals need to be secured.

The solar array at the Mid Valley Metro site is in unincorporated El Jebel, so Eagle County government oversees the land use. The solar array is small enough that it doesn’t require special approvals from Eagle County, according to Spencer. “Up to 80 kilowatts is a use by right” in the county land use code, he said.

He said the reflectivity of nearly 400 solar panels won’t be an issue. The site is shielded from Highway 82 and homes to the south by a berm. In addition, the panels CEC will use have a reflectivity rate of 4 percent, less than car windows, structure windows and water, which has a rate of 12 percent, he said.

CEC estimates that buyers will pay about $12,500 for enough panels to produce 5 kilowatts of power at its solar arrays. By buying panels and infrastructure in the farms, buyers are eligible for rebates and tax credits currently available through Holy Cross, the Governor’s Energy Office in Colorado and the Aspen-based Community Office for Resource Efficiency. Federal tax credits are also available.

The cost to buy a system capable of offsetting individual power needs will be cheaper than if homeowners and business operators placed solar panels on their own property, Spencer said. CEC can take advantage of economies of scale with larger projects, then pass the savings on to buyers.

More details on the CEC model and contact information are available at the company’s website: http://www.easycleanenergy.com.


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