Glenwood Springs couple takes a shine to solar power |

Glenwood Springs couple takes a shine to solar power

John Colson
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
John Colson/Post IndependentFrom left, Sandy Lowell talks about the workings of his new solar photovoltaic system to Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen, Garfield County staffer Jim Rada, Glenwood council member Russ Arensman, Jennifer Lowell and Heather McGregor (not pictured) of the Garfield New Energy Communities Initiative

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – A Glenwood Springs equipment salesman and his wife said this week that they expect to be sending energy back into the statewide power grid at least some part of any given day, and to rack up considerable savings on their home energy bills, as a result of a recently concluded city program.

The first Glenwood Springs Solar Rebates Program officially concluded on Tuesday, with a presentation at the home of Jennifer and Sandy Lowell of West Glenwood Springs, who paid less than half the cost of installing photovoltaic panels on the roof of their home.

“We were really excited about having our solar system installed,” said Sandy Lowell, pointing out that it might not have happened without the help of the city, the state of Colorado, the Community Office for Resource Efficiency and the federal government, “which means the U.S. taxpayers.

“I’ve been having a really good time telling all my friends, thanking them for installing our solar system,” he joked.

The Lowell household was one of five winners in a lottery among 21 customers of the Glenwood Springs municipal utility system, which included a total of seven commercial and 14 residential.

Among the winning commercial firms were Alpine Bank, Schmueser Gordon Meyer engineers and Habitat Glenwood, for an apartment building on South Grand Avenue.

The residential winners, besides the Lowells, included John and Suri Burg; Robert and Tammy Sommerfeld; Craig and Shannon Ullmann; and Kerry and Alice Sundeen.

A total of $90,000 in rebates was issued through the program – up to $9,000 for the residential projects and up to $15,000 for the commercial applications.

The costs were split between the Glenwood Springs Electric Department and the Colorado Governor’s Office.

Speaking to a small crowd on his front lawn, Sandy Lowell, who sells Caterpillar equipment for a living, said the rebates accounted for more than 58 percent of the installation costs, and that he is expecting a payback period of 28 years – the time it will take to recover those installation costs through lower utility bills.

Explaining how the system has worked so far, Lowell said it has changed he and his wife’s habits regarding energy use. Using equipment to monitor the amount of power being consumed, they have begun turning off any equipment not actually in use or needed at the moment, and he believes that the system ultimately will generate about two-thirds of the power consumed in the two-story house.

“The meter actually does flow backwards, as long as we don’t turn on a lot,” Lowell said with a grin.

And while the system will help with the family’s energy costs, he said of alternative energy, “It’s the right thing to do, and ultimately it’s the answer for the country,” as a way of reducing U.S. dependency on foreign sources of oil and natural gas.

A key aspect of the effort, he said, was an energy audit conducted by the Sunsense company of Carbondale, which was one of three area firms that worked on the program, along with InPower Systems, also of Carbondale, and Colorado Solar of New Castle.

According to Lowell, the system already has resulted in a cutback of some 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide that would have been emitted by coal-fired power plants sending electricity to their home, a factor known as the home’s “carbon footprint.”

At the presentation, representatives of the winning commercial companies, as well as Glenwood Springs, Garfield County and the solar installation firms, spoke about the prospect of increased use of photovoltaic technology and other alternative energy sources in the region that includes Garfield County.

Scott Ely of Sunsense noted that, aside from the economic and environmental benefits, a ramped-up solar panel installation program will mean the creation of more jobs in a troubled economy.

“It’s the rebates and the incentives that are driving the market,” he declared. “I don’t think anybody would deny that.”

But the Roaring Fork Valley region has a history of interest in alternative energy use, which should translate into sustained and increasing work for companies like his.

“People want to do this,” he said.

Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen conceded that the city has “sort of been lagging behind some of our neighboring communities.” He explained that the installations being highlighted on Monday have doubled the solar-energy capacity in the city, “so we didn’t have much going on before.”

But, he predicted, the city, along with Garfield County and other local governments, will be moving to catch up with towns such as Carbondale and Aspen, which have long been leaders in the alternative energy field.

Christensen noted that, on the way to the presentation at the Lowells’ home, he had spotted two electric lawn mowers being recharged from solar systems, and said hopefully, “Maybe that’s a sign of the future.”

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