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The City of Rifle is finishing up work on a comprehensive new clean energy project that will generate 425 kilowatts of clean solar power using existing facilities including City Hall, the police station, public works buildings as well as five other sites.
Carbondale Solar Energy firm Sol Energy, led by solar energy pioneer Ken Olson, has been a key partner in this project, putting their over 25 years of expertise in municipal clean energy development to work for the City. Sol Energy designed and installed the photovoltaic (PV) systems including the ground mounts, rooftop systems, an awning, and two carport canopies.
Former Mayor and City Councilman Keith Lambert spoke of the realization the City came to regarding energy. “We recognized that oil and gas has a lifespan. Once it’s gone it’s gone. We wanted to level the playing field and take advantage of other forms of energy. If you capture all of them, you set yourself up for the future.”
“Rifle was one of the first to have a compressed natural gas station, we have electric vehicles in our city fleet, and we helped make a solar garden a reality,” said current Rifle Mayor Jay Miller. “So we’re looking forward to seeing our effort help provide all the power we need at eight of our facilities.”
According to Rifle’s Parks and Maintenance Director Tom Whitmore, “our facility was built a few years ago and we wanted to do more solar at the time but couldn’t.
Lambert praised Sol Energy for their work. “Sol Energy offered us an opportunity to realize our community vision. They had prior experience and we’re located in the region. It was not a hard sell. When a municipality enters into a contract, they’re looking for history, expertise, and local contractors if possible. We wanted to keep taxpayers money as local as possible. Thankfully, working with Sol Energy this new project allowed us to move forward on that goal. They were the instrument that made it all happen.”
Whitmore spoke of the challenges Sol Energy faced having to come in, connect and install solar PV systems around existing infrastructure and facilities. “Retrofitting is a difficult thing,” he said. “Were getting positive feedback from people noticing the work that’s been done. Members of the public and some of our vendors have remarked how awesome it is. People are really pleased,” he said. “I would tell other towns and cities that some people tend to be skeptical but it’s a lot easier and more feasible than you might think. This is absolutely worth it.”
The project showcases innovation in two areas: the use of clean energy to reduce the City’s carbon footprint in the face of climate change, and third-party financing and energy cost savings that pay for the full cost of the program now and save the City money going forward.
Private investors have financed the installation of the solar panels in return for selling the generated power back to the city at a reduced cost. No city funds were spent on construction of the project. The Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported that the city expects to save over $440,000 in energy costs over the life of the project. “Given the conservative political climate in the town and the need to be responsible stewards of the taxpayer’s funds, this project made real financial sense,” said Lamber. “There was hardly any pushback because people could see this was a financial decision and we were saving money this way.”
The project is being built to be net-zero, offsetting 100% of the City of Rifle’s annual municipal energy use. The project includes new solar installations at the following locations:
Parks and Maintenance – 55 kW
City Hall Parking – 141 kW
Cemetery Irrigation – 10 kW
Public Works Operations – 26 kW
South Lift Station – 15 kW
Police Station – 122 kW
Taugenbaugh Pumps – 43 kW
Taugenbaugh Ballpark – 9 kW
Lambert mentioned how other municipalities should use Rifle as an example. “They should look at our experience as a road map to fiscal savings for the community because it’s something that means a great deal financially. 0ther communities should look at this because it saves cash on the table. With everything we’ve done in the past 10 years we consider ourselves the poster child for clean energy in Western Colorado. People in the field have told us we have more solar power per capita than any community in the United States. We take pride in that.”
Photovoltaic (PV) system installation is no different than any other craft: quality begins with a good foundation. And when it comes to ground mount solar panel systems it begins beneath the surface, it begins with the pile driver.
A pile driving machine is used for ground mount photovoltaic systems and from the viewpoint of solar energy pioneer Ken Olson of Sol Energy: “Pile drivers are an economic and efficient alternative to standard procedures for photovoltaic array installations.”
Standard procedure used to require multiple steps. First a soil engineer conducts a soil report and the foundation is designed. Then a back hoe digs the holes and sonotube is set inside. Next steel rebar is added. Finally the hole is backfilled with concrete and inspector is called for a site review.
With the pile driver the engineering data is immediate. Ground supports are driven into the ground with a pile driving machine—no more back hoe. Soil samples are retrieved and inspected on site.
“We know exactly what the resistive strengths are of what we are putting into the ground,” Olson says.
The pilings themselves are made of galvanized steel approximately 7-10’ in length. They are set into place according to the design. Once they are plumbed the driving machine pounds them into the earth. Sol Energy sourced their pilings for the City of Rifle projects from S:Flex—a mounting system producer located in Sheridan, Colorado on the Front Range.
Sol Energy used the pile driver for all of the City of Rifle’s ground mount installations.
“Residential and Commercial PV systems have, until recently, been limited to a maximum of 600 volts,” Sol Energy president Ken Olson says. “[The Boulder project] is a good example of the way the industry is going in terms of higher voltage systems.”
In recent years, Olson adds, double digit growth of photovoltaic (PV) systems in the utility sector has spurred development of equipment with listed ratings of 1000 Volts. Many in the PV industry believe that these higher voltages are soon to become the new standard in commercial as well as residential PV systems. The Boulder project demonstrates how the PV industry is moving toward lower costs and higher efficiencies.
Photovoltaic inverter producer SMA Solar Technology Global Product Manager Ken Christensen explains: “Listed 1,000 V PV components provide the same assurance of safety as traditional 600 Volt- rated components, but owners of 1,000 Volt PV systems benefit from significantly reduced costs and increased energy production.”
The Boulder County Longhorn facility’s PV capacity is 48.45 kilo-Watts and is expected to generate over 75,000 kilo-Watt-hours (kWh) annually. 75,000 kWh helps Boulder County to achieve their green goal with Longhorn: a Net Zero energy building. That means that the all of the building’s energy—heating and cooling—is provided on-site.
“[Boulder County] did all of its [building designs] as efficiently as possible,” says Boulder County Project Coordinator Ron Diederichsen. And with the addition of Longhorn’s PV system to their other clean energy buildings, Boulder County’s facilities “total one megawatt.”
Megawatt equals one million watts. That’s a lot of clean, green power.