Garfield County to install large solar electric system
on fairgrounds riding arena roof.
Solar power is projected to offset 57 percent of the facility’s electric use
Installation of the “granddaddy” solar project of the Garfield New Energy Communities Initiative will start later this month on the roof of the Garfield County Fairgrounds riding arena in Rifle.
“The riding arena solar project will be the largest of the 16 solar systems installed on public buildings from Parachute to Carbondale for the Garfield Initiative,” said Alice Laird, director of CLEER: Clean Energy Economy for the Region, the nonprofit managing the Garfield NECI programs. “It’s the granddaddy solar array that will pump out thousands of dollars worth of low-cost clean energy, year in and year out.”
The riding arena project will use 440 solar panels to create a rectangular array that will be 37 feet wide and 217 feet long, all mounted on the south-facing half of the riding arena roof. The solar system is rated to produce 101.2 kilowatts under full sunshine. Over a full year, it is expected to produce 144,617 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which would offset 57 percent of the riding arena’s annual electricity demand.
“This is the flagship project of the Garfield NECI solar arrays,” said Katharine Rushton, business development director for Sol Energy, the Carbondale company installing the array. “Garfield County is really setting an example.”
“We picked the riding arena because it uses a lot of energy,” said Garfield County Manager Ed Green. “We have events continuously at the fairgrounds, particularly at the arena. We thought it would be a great idea to have a power system that would pay for itself, and help cover the cost of operations for the arena. Electricity is by far the biggest cost of operations at that building, especially the lighting.”
Mounting solar panels on the riding arena roof was an easy choice, Green noted. The building has a huge span of roof facing directly south, with no trees or buildings shading its all-day access to the sun. “You really can’t find a building that’s much better suited for solar,” he said.
Fairgrounds riding arena solar array
Immediate cost savings on clean energy
Expected first-year production from the riding arena solar array: 144,617 kWh
Upfront cost of installation = $0
Standard price for 144,617 kWh
@ 5.3 cents = $7,664
PPA price for 144,617 kWh @ 2.25 cents = $3,253
Savings for clean power = $4,411 / year
Xcel Energy REC = $7,954 / year
Clean power savings + REC = $12,365 / year
20-year savings for Garfield County = $247,300
Garfield County is able to build such a large system by taking advantage of a power purchase agreement (PPA). The agreement allowed the county to dramatically leverage its $82,500 grant for a renewable energy project from the Garfield NECI, which originated as energy impact funds from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs
“Two of the 16 Garfield NECI solar energy systems are using the PPA finance model,” said Jeff Dickinson, program director for CLEER. “The Town of New Castle used PPA financing to install a 70 kW system on its new public works facility. It’s a great way to get a lot more bang for your clean energy buck. You pay less for electricity, get a much bigger system and the PPA provider covers 100 percent of the upfront costs,” he said.
Using the PPA approach also adds complexity to the project, and Dickinson assisted Garfield County with project development, bidding and proposal analysis to make sure Garfield County got the best deal possible.
Garfield County awarded the PPA contract to Rockwell Financial, which will own the array. Sol Energy is a partner with Rockwell to handle design and installation, and Conergy USA is Rockwell’s partner supplying the solar panels and inverters.
The PPA financial arrangement, combined with Xcel Energy’s Solar*Rewards program, means that Garfield County will reap thousands of dollars in savings every year from the solar array, Rushton said.
“Garfield County is being very fiscally responsible,” Rushton said. “By using the PPA finance model, they will pay less for this clean energy and receive payments from Xcel Energy for renewable energy credits for the next 20 years.”
PPA financing works out quite favorably for Garfield County. At the same time, the system helps Xcel Energy work toward its goal of generating 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
At present, the county pays Xcel Energy 5.3 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for electricity at the riding arena. Once the solar array is installed, the county will pay Rockwell 2.25 cents per kWh for electricity produced by the array. In addition, the county will receive an annual renewable energy credit (REC) payment from Xcel Energy, based on the system’s actual production, for the next 20 years.
Rushton said Sol Energy’s crew of six will start work on the array by late November or early December. Installation of the framework and panels will take about three weeks, and it will take another three weeks or so to install the inverters, complete all the wiring and go through the electrical inspection.
Once it’s done, Rushton predicts the riding arena array will become a showcase project. “It’s so visible, and it will provide a great educational opportunity for the public,” she said.
For Garfield County, Green said the array sends a strong statement to county residents and visitors. “We’re trying to set the example by exploring new options for alternative energy sources. I don’t think our country is ready to switch from fossil fuels yet, but we have to begin, and this is a good beginning,” he said.
For a complete list of the Garfield NECI solar installations from Parachute to Carbondale, visit the Garfield Clean Energy website