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Carbondale Subscribes to Solar Garden Toward Carbon-Neutral Future

City of Fort Collins, John Robson

A recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change warns that countries must act immediately to mitigate the effects of global warming. As the current administration of the United States pursues policies of energy dominance, states and municipalities are challenged to adopt strategies locally towards a more sustainable future. KDNK's Raleigh Burleigh has more.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the levels of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are at their highest in at least 800,000 years. Meanwhile, scientists of the Rocky Mountain West are recording reduced snowpack, earlier peak runoff and reduced annual streamflows. The consequences of these changes are already being factored into local decision making.

–JH-- I think this summer, the drought issues we dealt with really focused our needs on long-term planning to deal with Climate Change. --

Jay Harrington is Town Manager for the Town of Carbondale. He is working diligently to execute the Energy and Climate Plan adopted by the Town in 2017. The goal of this plan is for the municipality to be carbon neutral by the year 2050.

Essential to its success is solar energy. Carbondale's electric portfolio is already made up of 30 percent renewables thanks to several power purchase agreements and off-site solar arrays.

-- JH-- Our waste water plant is not in a good location for on-site solar. It's basically down in a hole along the river which gets limited sunlight and a rather small footprint acreage-wise. So we've looked at that a couple of different times for solar availability and it's way more cost-effective and efficient to do it in a solar garden model.--

Solar Gardens have become increasingly popular in Colorado and throughout the world. It is akin to a power plant, harnessing energy to be dumped onto a grid for consumption elsewhere.

--JS-- It's built big, it's built efficiently, but it's close to the city which is good from a grid management standpoint. And then it's a model that customers get the benefit without having to have it on their roof and I think that that's going to unlock the industry in terms of being able to provide solar to renters, to apartment owners, people that live in skyscrapers or just municipalities that just don't quite have the rooftops that make sense.--

John Sullivan is Vice President of Project Development for Pivot Energy, a company that is building solar gardens across Colorado, including one near Silt. Several municipalities, including Carbondale, are subscribing to receive solar credits for the energy produced by this 1 megawatt garden.

--JS-- What happens is we build an off-site solar garden that generates solar energy and that energy delivers solar energy bill credits to the customer so Xcel allows us to connect to their grid and to deliver the physical electricity and then we quantify the amount of kilowatts generated and then credit the customer's energy bill.--

Carbondale will receive 200 kilowatts of the 1 megawatt garden, equivalent to the energy used by about 50 homes in a given moment. This subscription with Pivot Energy will bring Carbondale's energy portfolio to about 50 percent renewables.

--JH—One of the nicest things about the subscription model is we don’t have to put the capital up front. So, in the Pivot one the cost is below what we would be paying Xcel for the same energy usage so it’s both a cost savings, meets our carbon goals and we don’t have to put the capital up front.

Moreover, a company like Pivot Energy can maximize efficiency...

--JS – Because we’re building a bigger project, we can optimize it. Meaning, we can ensure there’s no shading, we can use single-axis trackers that track with the sun therefore producing more power per solar module. –

Colorado is an exceptional testing-ground for this solar energy model given a favorable climate and political support.

--JS—The sun resource is good, meaning it’s sunny here. It’s also high elevation which is good, cold temperatures overall which is believe it or not good for solar PV. So the environmental conditions are great. Politically, we have the legislation that allows this sort of model to take place and then Xcel as a utility has adopted it and created this program so they’ve been proactive in adopting the legislation and creating this program for us to use.

Subscribing to a solar garden is one way that the Town of Carbondale is mitigating its environmental impact to ensure for a sustainable future.

For Western Slope Resources Reporting, I’m Raleigh Burleigh.

Raleigh Burleigh was raised in the historic floodplanes of Satank. The Carbondale Rotary Club sponsored him as a youth ambassador to Chile the year before his graduation from Roaring Fork High School. He studied International Affairs and Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder then applied those studies traveling throughout South America the following year. Returning to Carbondale thereafter, Raleigh acquired an internship with KDNK News which led to the opportunity to serve as News Director from 2017 to 2019. After another trip to South America in early 2019, Raleigh Burleigh drew deeper into the confluence as Program Director at KDNK. Now Raleigh is happy to serve on the KDNK Board of Directors. Raleigh is now the Editor of Carbondale's weekly newspaper the Sopris Sun.