Vail Valley eyes solar panels at landfill |

Vail Valley eyes solar panels at landfill

Chris Outcalt
Vail Valley, CO Colorado
NWS Landfill BH 6-7

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Eagle County Facilities Director Tom Johnson was at the county landfill in Wolcott when the idea hit him ” the spot is perfect for solar panels.

“There’s virtually nothing you can do with the property ” there’s trash under 4 feet of clay,” Johnson said. “It’s absolutely useless other than for wildlife habitat.”

Johnson has done some preliminary research on what would need to be done to put solar panels on a 60-acre graded section of the county landfill. The project, even at a rapid pace, would likely take most of 2009 to plan for, Johnson said.

Although the county owns the land, it has several restrictions on it that require the land be used for landfill operations. The restrictions also say the county can’t profit from the land.

“The Bureau of Land Management sold it at a very low price,” Johnson said. “But it was a restricted use.”

If the county doesn’t get permission to use the land for something not directly related to the landfill, the land management group can charge the county what the land is worth.

“It will cost us a fortunate if we don’t get the permission,” he said.

Clearing that hurdle would be the first step, Johnson said.

The county would also have to get permission from the Division of Wildlife, go through its own special use process and hold community meetings on the project before building it, Johnson said.

“There would be a handful of houses that will likely be able to see it. I don’t know what the reaction would be to that,” Johnson said. “That’s where the community meetings come in.”

Johnson thinks pursuing the project is the right thing to do for the county and the environment.

“I think it’s a very appropriate use,” he said. “We save some money on the electricity and do the right thing.”

Johnson is still researching how much energy a solar system at the landfill could produce, but said it would likely be four or five megawatts ” enough electricity to power hundreds of homes.

The power from the solar panels would be fed into the county’s electrical grid, he said.

“You just get the credit back,” Johnson said.

The state, and Eagle County in particular, is a good place to take advantage of solar energy, said Matthew Charles of Grid Feeders, an Avon-based alternative energy company.

Solar panels in Eagle County will typically produce 30 percent more energy then other places in the country because of the altitude and amount of sunshine the area gets.

The most common spot for solar panels in the county has been rooftops, not open space, Charles said. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea, he said.

“Land that otherwise has no other use ” it only makes sense to build energy stations on it,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense for commercial entities that typically need the power.”

If the county decides to move forward with a solar project at the landfill, it likely wouldn’t be able to do it alone, Johnson said.

“I think we’d go out and find a third party to partner with that would actually build the system,” he said. “Hopefully, our contribution is the land.”

Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or

Support Local Journalism