Cooperating on solar power projects in Garfield County, Colorado.

Author:Dawson, Lisa


Innovative public-private partnerships are putting Garfield County on the forefront of clean energy development in the State of Colorado. Natural gas production is the economic driver in Garfield, and careful fiscal management has made it one of the wealthiest counties in the state. With the boom and bust nature of the industry and the downturn of the national economy, however, Garfield County has endeavored to diversify its economic base.

Garfield County is involved with a number of projects including supporting local economic development councils, attending trade shows to attract new business, networking with local businesses to help them grow, and pursuing alternative energy development. The latter has led to two innovative public-private partnerships involving solar power.


The riding arena at the Garfield County Fairgrounds is one of the county's largest users of energy, so mounting solar panels on its roof was an easy choice. The building has a huge span of roof facing directly south, with no trees or building shading its all-day access to the sun. Not only is it ideally suited for solar, but its high visibility provides a good educational opportunity for the public.

A rectangular arrangement of 440 solar panels created an array 37 feet wide and 217 feet long, all mounted on the south-facing half of the riding arena roof. The modules were installed on the roof of the indoor arena to power lights and office, professional kitchen, and mechanical equipment. The solar system produces 101.2 kilowatts under full sunshine. Over a full year, it is expected to produce 144,617 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which would offset 57 percent of the riding arena's annual electricity demand.

The project is funded through an $82,500 grant the Garfield New Energy Communities Initiative (GNECI), a community clean energy project funded by the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), awarded to Garfield County to develop a renewable energy demonstration project. (Later, there will be an online educational monitoring component to present how much power is being generated.) The county entered into a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a third-party entity, which received state and federal grants to install the $385,000 system. Garfield County offered the roof space and agreed to buy power from the system for 20 years. The contract with its third-party providers--the company that installed the array and the finance company...

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