County buildings to begin utilizing sustainable power
Photo by: 
Roberta Marquette
The beginning stages of a solar project being installed outside of the Blackstock Government building.
The beginning stages of a solar project being installed outside of the Blackstock Government building.

Solar installations for five Gunnison County buildings are under construction as part of the county’s effort to reduce energy and greenhouse gas emissions. The panels are being installed at the Gunnison County Courthouse, Blackstock Government Building, Public Safety Center, Public Works and the O’Leary building, where Health and Human Services is located, and offer a combined 298 kilowatts of power.

“(The installations reduce) our energy needs and in turn our exposure to price escalation over time,” said county Sustainable Operations Director John Cattles.

The panels’ photovoltaic cells — also known as solar arrays — utilize the power of the sun to generate electricity for the facilities.

The O’Leary array will provide about 80 percent of the building’s power, Cattles explained. The rest will offer between 25 and 50 percent of power. All facilities except the Blackstock building will feature roof mounted systems. Cattles made the decision to move the panels from the roof as planned to a section of lawn on the south side of the building. The move allows snow removal on the roof of the 95 year old building to remain a simple process, he said.

The large scale project was introduced in the spring of 2019 as the county continues to adopt more sustainable practices, such as the geothermal heating and cooling system utilized at the courthouse.

All five of the installations have a price tag of about $1.3 million. Last August, Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs awarded the project $497,500 through an Energy Impact Assistance Fund grant. The remainder of the cost will come from a lease purchase agreement between the county and the contractor, Milwaukee, Wisc., based Johnson Controls.

The project was temporarily put on hold in spring of last year as the county and Gunnison city leaders negotiated a contract involving the city’s electric provider, Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska. The city adopted a new solar policy which specifies a flat fee for large-scale solar projects based on the size of the array, but the fee is about half of what was proposed originally. At that time, the proposal cast doubt on whether the county project was financially feasible.

County leaders said they’re banking on a promise by city leaders to move to a “metered” policy — one which is based on peak consumption demand, or the actual performance of the system. They say doing so will make the project more viable from a cost standpoint. However, they seem satisfied with the new conditions, provided they are only temporary.

According to Cattles, the project is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

“(Overall, the project) reduces greenhouse gas emissions which are contributing to climate change that threatens our water, our natural landscapes and our economy,” Cattles said. “These projects also prove that significant progress can be made even in harsh environments, in new or old buildings, and at a cost that (is) justified over time with energy cost savings. Gunnison County is leading in our efforts to reduce energy use and lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

 

(Roberta Marquette can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at roberta@gunnisontimes.com.)