Summit County examines landfill for solar array |

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Summit County examines landfill for solar array

As discussions about installing a solar garden gain momentum, the Summit County Government’s plan to analyze space at the landfill for a photovoltaics array indicates it’s on board with the initiative.

“It’s one of Summit County Government’s goals to have a percentage of its energy to come from renewable energy,” County Commissioner Thomas Davidson said, also suggesting that many county residents are interested, but unable to invest because of renting, homeowner association or physical limitations.

“That was exactly what we were hoping for,” said Lynne Greene about commission members directing staff to look at land for the solar garden.

Greene, who is the energy programs manager at the High Country Conservation Center, has been tracking Xcel Energy’s progress in releasing guidelines for its Solar Rewards Community program. The program is being dialed in to align with Colorado law as outlined by the Public Utilities Commission. She expects the Xcel guidelines to be issued and applications for rebates to be accepted in mid-September.

Which is why she’s working to get a list of interested buyers, potential land on which the array will be placed and preliminary engineering work completed prior to when the application period opens.

“The more complete applications will rise to the surface,” said Eric Westerhoff of Breckenridge’s Innovative Energy.

Assistant county manager Thad Noll said the analysis of the landfill as a spot for the community array would be complete within a few weeks. The idea is to place the panels on landfill cells that are already filled – the land is flat, south-facing, open and cheap. But he’s not sure if the necessary three acres is available there.

In the meantime, Greene is still looking for folks interested in buying into the community array, including businesses. Big businesses, such as Vail Resorts, could act as anchor tenants to help fund the project up front. They would then either keep receiving rebates for the power or sell shares as individuals gain interest. It’s something the company is considering, Breckenridge environmental coordinator Dave November said.

Summit County is also considering buying in, but is limited by the belt tightening it recently had to do. Davidson suggested funding could come from a new tax that could appear on the 2012 ballot. Over time, the tax money would incur savings for county operations.

For residential purchases, Greene expects the incentives to be similar to those for rooftop installations – with roughly a 10-year payback.

It’s expected the array will cost roughly $2.5 million, which Greene said would likely be paid by an investor group with Clean Energy Collective, the firm they’re eyeing to install the system. They’ve got a good track record, she said. As the project begins to produce energy, shareholders would incur expenses of their panel purchases, over time paying the investor group back. It’s a win-win, Greene said previously, because as the array is installed as a whole, investors get the initial tax credit. Shareholders get a portion of the tax credit back, after investors calculate their return on investment. Shareholders also benefit through a rebate on their energy bill, Greene said.

If the application is ready and accepted in late 2011, the solar array could be installed and functioning as early as next summer.

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