GYPSUM — Imagine having an acre of fertile ground, but only planting crops on less than half of it.
That’s not something a farmer would do and it’s a good analogy for what’s happening on the roof of the Eagle County Maintenance Facility on Cooley Mesa Road in Gypsum.
The south-facing, metal-seam roof at the building is prime real estate for solar collection. This week, the Gypsum Town Council approved a special use permit to allow expansion of an existing system.
Last year Eagle County contracted with Sunsense Solar Inc. of Carbondale for 30kW solar photovoltaic system at the site. Once the array was placed on the roof, the company and the county came to the same conclusion — there was a lot more available real estate for expansion. To be precise, there was room for another 42 kW system.
“We weren’t exactly sure how much space we would have during the original construction,” Eagle County Sustainable Communities Director Adam Palmer said. “When you have a due south-facing, metal-seam roof, this just makes sense.”
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“The county maintenance building is a pretty innovative building. Most of it is semi-heated garage space,” Palmer continued.
The building’s heating system is fueled with a used oil furnace and with the solar panels on the roof. The building generates as much energy as it uses. In fact, with the new panels, the building will generate excess energy that the county can apply toward energy bills at some of its other sites.
Palmer said the original installation was budgeted to cost $60,000 and the expansion is estimated to cost $94,000. The payback on the system’s capital cost is estimated at 12 years.
“What we are trying to do, moving forward, is to manage all our energy use, not only at the maintenance facility but at all our facilities,” Palmer said. “This is a good project that offsets our electrical use.”
Crews are expected to begin work at the site in February.
Sunsense Solar, based in Carbondale, has been working with customers on renewable projects for the past 30 years.
According to Sunsense representative Christian Basso, the model is simple. In the Eagle Valley, Holy Cross Energy owns the electric grid, so when someone invests in a solar system, he or she receives permission to connect to the grid for the power generated by that system.
“At that particular building (the Eagle County Maintenance Facility) anything the county doesn’t consume gets sold back to Holy Cross at a wholesale rate,” Basso said.
Basso noted that the Phase II project at the Eagle County Maintenance Building is the third Eagle County/Sunsense project in the last four years.
“When a client has the real estate — square footage on the roof — it’s an efficient installation for them,” Basso concluded.