TELLURIDE – More than a year in the making, the solar photovoltaic system destined to lessen the Town of Telluride’s overall energy consumption is inching ever closer to completion at the Telluride Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant.
One of the largest photovoltaic systems in Western Colorado, and the first large-scale, net-metered, grid-tied array within the San Miguel Power Association’s service area, the 118-kilowatt, 480-panel system is expected to go online in the coming weeks.
“It should be operative by the first week in January,” said Don Jones, owner of Controlled Hydronics, Inc., the project contractor.
“We’re just pulling some wires and mounting the rest of the panels,” and working out, “a few little details with our interconnection with the grid,” Jones said in the days leading up to Christmas.
“We’re glad to see it come online,” said SMPA Board President Wes Perrin. “Telluride is one of the main communities that is asking for more renewables. It’s really nice to see them step up and walk the talk.”
Located at Society Turn where it is far from rock fall hazards, does not accumulate snow, and has no trees blocking solar access, the $600,000 project was made possible in large part thanks to the State of Colorado Governor’s Energy Office, which provided the town with a $150,000 New Energy Economy Development grant for its completion.
The NEED grant program, paid for through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, was developed to provide funding for projects that improve energy efficiency and advance renewable energy for commercial, industrial and public projects while sustaining and creating jobs in the growing green energy sector.
The Town of Mountain Village, whose wastewater is also treated at the facility owned and operated by the Town of Telluride, recently agreed to pay $157,000 over five years toward the project because of an agreement it has to pay 35 percent of the plant’s operational and capital improvement costs.
Excavation for the project, which was designed by engineer Rob Rutherford and “put together” by electrical engineer Carle Hoover and master electrician Terry Preston, commenced last July and was slated for completion by the end of this year.
However, a backlog of solar projects requiring solar panels that met with the “Made in America” specifications required by the ARRA funding delayed its completion.
“We weren’t able to get the original panels that we had specified,” Jones said, noting that the panels ultimately produced for the array tested out at a higher wattage than those specified.
While more expensive, “It’s good in that it puts out more power,” he said.
When running, the solar array is expected to generate about 205 kilowatt hours of electricity from the sun annually, representing about 10 percent of the WWTP’s energy use and six percent of the Town of Telluride’s 2008 carbon dioxide emissions.
“It depends entirely on the amount of sun we get,” said Telluride Public Works Project Manager Karen Guglielmone.
“That’s what the system is supposed to produce, we’ll be watching is closely.”
Still, because a number of large, industrial motors are responsible for the WWTP processes, it is unlikely to return power to the grid, despite being tied to it.
“In a typical installation in a house, the meter runs backwards all the time,” Jones explained. Here, “We may not ever feed anything back into the grid.”
The array is conservatively estimated to save about $14,000 in annual energy costs, so it will be some time before the governments recoup their investments.
Nevertheless, the project will help Telluride’s government meet its goal of lowering its 2005 carbon emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020. It will also help the region chip away at its goal to offset 100 percent of its electrical needs with new, renewable energy sources by 2020 as articulated by Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser and Mountain Village Mayor Bob Delves in their 2009 mayoral challenge to the community known as the Telluride/Mountain Village Regional Renewable Energy Initiative – or Telluride Renewed.
“While the solar array on the Wastewater Treatment Plant is estimated to reduce the energy consumption by some 10 percent of the total, we understand that it is a long term investment in reducing our energy dependence on coal fired plants,” said Fraser. “Making the switch to renewable energy has never been viewed as inexpensive or less expensive, but it is a commitment to an agreed upon goal. Energy efficiency and conservation can make much larger reductions, but each step we take is a step in the ultimate direction to clean our environment. If government is not willing to make the commitment who will?”
A good question, because meeting that goal is still a long way off.
“This plant is very small in its usage compared to our regional usage,” said Guglielmone, who estimated that Town of Telluride governmental energy use accounts for one-sixth of that used by residential and commercial consumers.
“That’s where the preponderance of use is coming from,” she said, challenging the non-governmental community to conserve more.
“The only way the challenge is going to work is if we get the entire region to actively start making impactful moves,” agreed Fraser.
But if project contractor Jones is right, it could be a large step in the right direction.
“We’re just happy to have this array with our name on it. We’re very proud of it,” he said.
“It’s great to have it at the entrance to the valley, just to get people thinking about the amount of energy they use.”