Sol Energy Shines Lignt In Carbondale
Phillip Yates, Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado • April 8, 2008
CARBONDALE — What if your business could receive most of its energy from the sun, while also enjoying a federal tax credit and utility rebates?
Carbondale-based Sol Energy can help you enjoy all three benefits and make a small difference against global warming.
The company already is helping the town of Carbondale reduce its carbon footprint after it installed two massive solar panel arrays on top of the city’s recreation center. The photovoltaic (PV) system will provide the building with about two-thirds of its annual energy needs.
The Carbondale PV system — in which cells capture solar energy and convert it to electricity — is the largest in the Roaring ForkValley, said Ken Olson, owner of Sol Energy.
“It is exciting knowing that it is going on a building like this,” said Olson, as he stood next to his company’s PV array, which blends into the architecture of the recreation center.
The recreation center’s system will generate enough energy to power about seven homes for a year, while also helping the city reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 128,304 pounds — equivalent to removing 4,139 cars from the road for one day.
Russ Criswell, a former Carbondale town trustee who approved the system, said whenever a city- owned building is undergoing construction or a remodel, it should include alternative energy sources like solar panels.
“Carbondale and all of us have to do what we can to help the environment,” Criswell said.
At minimal taxpayer expense
Carbondale didn’t spend a dime for the solar panel system.
Instead, Sol Energy sold it to a financial services firm, which is collecting the incentives that come with owning the PV system. Those incentives include federal tax credits and utility rebates paid by Excel Energy.
The utility rebate is 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour for 20 years.
“It is a no brainer to put a PV system in,” Olson said.“You get so much of the money back.”
The city, which is paying for the electricity generated by the solar system, will have the option to buy the array in eight years at slightly under half price.
“They can do this and it is a benefit to the community,” Olson said.“It is not being paid for by the taxpayer.”
The cost of installing a PV system is based on design variations and the challenges of its installation, Olson said. He declined to reveal an exact cost of the system atop the Carbondale recreation center, but said an average PV system can cost about $8.50 to $10 per watt.
“Solar energy is more affordable than ever before,” said Katharine Rushton, business development manager for Sol Energy.
Installing solar panels also can be a long-term investment that can add value to residents’ properties, Rushton said.
Doing business worldwide
Most of Sol Energy’s business is concentrated in the Roaring Fork Valley and in Western Colorado, but the company has completed projects in Utah, Wyoming and an island in the Philippines. The solar array atop the Carbondale recreation center is the company’s largest project so far, Olson said.
Last year, the majority of projects the company had were for private homes. This year, however, the company is expected to have a 50-50 ratio of residential and commercial projects.
Olson said the amount of business the company is expected to do this year should be about three times what it did in 2007 — a year that also saw the company’s business increase about 30 percent from what it did in 2006.
Sol Energy works with architects and clients to make sure their desired PV systems are “integrated with [their] architecture,” Rushton said. The company also puts together the incentive packages clients’ can receive for installing solar panels.
“We facilitate all the different rebates and incentives,” said Rushton, adding the company works with clients to help them identify efficiency measures that maximize the potential of their PV system.“We want to make sure (clients) get the maximum financial credit.”
Sol Energy may be a business, but it is a business that has larger goals that just making money, Olson said.
“Everybody has the responsibility to leave the world better than they found it,” Olson said.“We are just looking for opportunities to do that and let others follow suit.”