Rifle is opening a door of the future | VailDaily.com

Rifle is opening a door of the future

Heidi Rice
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler/Post IndependentNew Castle resident Richard Murr examines a solar power display in Rifle on Friday morning. SunEdison,one of North America's largest solar energy service providers, is the lead sponsor of the tour that will bring the interactive educational exhibit to 50 cities nationwide. Murr wanted to educate himself about solar energy. "I think it has some really good possibilities," he said.

RIFLE, Colorado ” Joe and Virginia Erickson of New Castle wanted to learn more about solar energy, so they visited the solar energy tour Friday morning at the parking lot of Rifle City Hall.

The Ericksons were part of a number of people who visited the exhibit being put on by SunEdison, one of North America’s largest solar energy service providers headquartered in Maryland.

“We’re looking at alternative energy to see what it would take and some comparisons,” Virginia Erickson said. “We’ve done some reading and we’re definitely in favor of it.”

Joe Erickson agreed.

“I think solar energy and hydroelectric power are our future,” he added.

The exhibit included a computerized screen with headsets to educate people on solar energy as well as other interactive models.

The stop in Rifle was the 12th in a 50-city, 100-day tour throughout the West and Southwest, including Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas. The tour will also stop at the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in Minnesota.

“The tour is getting bigger and bigger each year,” said Chris Nichols, senior marketing manager for SunEdison. “We’re getting about 100 to 200 people a day coming out to experience it.”

Rifle is familiar with SunEdison, as the company is currently constructing two photovoltaic systems on both the east and west sides of the city. The project on the east will provide 0.6 megawatts of power to the city’s Colorado River raw water pump station at Rifle Pond to the east and 1.72 megawatts of power to the regional wastewater reclamation facility on the west. The systems will provide 90 percent of the power to the Rifle Pond pump station and 60 percent of the power to the waste water treatment plant.

Both systems are expected to be on line by the end of the year.

Rifle’s solar energy systems will make it the largest in the state, if not the country for a municipality, according to Charlie Stevens, utilities director for the city of Rifle.

Nichols said that because Rifle was already undergoing construction of a solar energy project, the tour stop was more than just education.

“Here in Rifle, it’s more of a celebration,” she said. “Rifle is so far ahead in the state of Colorado. This is like a thank-you to Rifle.”

Mayor Keith Lambert beamed with pride.

“The city of Rifle and partnership with SunEdison and are going to lead this community and the region at-large into the future with renewable energy resources,” Lambert said.

At the moment, solar energy isn’t necessarily cheaper, but it may be down the road.

“I’m not going to say solar is not more expensive, but as natural gas goes up and up, solar is going down and will continue to become more affordable,” Nichols said.

Even members of the oil and gas industry were examining the exhibit.

“We’re checking it out for a possible exhibit at the Energy Expo for next year,” said Kathy Friesen from EnCana USA. “We’re trying to expand the expo and alternative energy sources and this would be one of those things. Especially if (solar energy) is going to be prominent in Rifle.”

Even the town of Silt is curious about it.

“We’re looking into it,” said Silt Mayor Dave Moore. “I’ve been in touch with (Mayor) Keith Lambert and he’s explained the benefits. I thought I’d look into it and report back to the board. I ‘d like to see how something like this would work and benefit the town of Silt.”

The solar energy tour is next scheduled to appear between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Cooper Street Mall.

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