Tuesday, September 22, 2020

New GCEA solar array in Gunnison provides opportunity

“We are the first out of 41 members to take advantage of this”

By Katherine Nettles

Gunnison County Electric Association (GCEA) has completed installation of a new community solar garden this summer, bringing enough renewable energy online in the Gunnison Valley to power approximately 25 homes. This is part of its pursuit to achieve 2 percent locally sourced, renewable energy for members, among other renewable energy pursuits.

The new array consists of 342 panels and will produce approximately 101kW of renewable energy. GCEA is now selling 285 solar shares total, which represent about 1.2 panels each. GCEA members can purchase short-term or long-term leases on the shares to offset electrical usage and buy in to local renewable energy.

Local contractor Nunatak Alternative Energy Solutions constructed the solar garden at the GCEA headquarters on Highway 50, just west of Gunnison. The project cost approximately $218,000.

GCEA strategy execution specialist Matt Feier says people’s energy bills should break about even after they pay lease fees but then get credits back for solar production. So far, Feier says about 153 shares are spoken for, and GCEA has not yet begun marketing or advertising them in earnest. GCEA is working with the Gunnison Valley Climate Crisis Coalition to help promote the solar garden and its “Green the Grid” program.

“We’ve decided to limit it to five shares per member to give the community wider access,” says Feier. If there are still some shares unspoken for after an initial stage, he said GCEA would open shares up to those who want to lease more. “There are plenty of people who would like to just purchase enough to cover their entire home,” he acknowledged, “but that would not give the whole community the opportunity to be a part of it.”

Under its contract with energy supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission GCEA is allowed to generate up to 2 percent of its energy from local, renewable sources, “and out of 41 members regionally, we are the first to take advantage of this,” says Feier.

GCEA is now in the process of getting approval to energize the garden from Tri-State Energy. Tri-State is in turn waiting on approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and Feier said he hopes all approvals will be complete in October.

GCEA is also researching and working to secure property for additional community solar gardens to reach that 2 percent. This includes ongoing discussions with Coldharbour Ranch and Crested Butte South Property Owners Association, though nothing has been solidified yet.

The company is also looking at the viability of developing a solar array at the town of Crested Butte’s Avalanche Park property. It has been soliciting bids from regional and national solar developers, with final proposals due on September 18, and if the project is economically viable GCEA will initiate a county or town permitting process.

“We have definitely been making some progress on a variety of renewable and beneficial electrification initiatives here at GCEA,” says Feier.

GCEA reports that its Taylor hydropower project is moving forward, with an initial open period having started on Tuesday, September 1 for development proposals associated with the Bureau of Reclamation. There will be a National Environmental Protections Agency (NEPA) process as well, including public comment, as the process moves forward.

The GCEA has also installed two new DC Fast Charge stations in June at the Crested Butte Fire Hall and at the Lake City Ice Park. Both chargers are 62.5kW and use traditional grid power with 32 percent renewable sources.

“We want to promote and expand electrical vehicle use in the valley and make it really easy and convenient for everyone,” says Feier.

GCEA is providing free home chargers—retail value $699—to members owning an electric vehicle in exchange for their charging data. Tri-State is also sponsoring a rebate up to $250 on the installation cost.

More information about subscribing and the Charge at Home program can be found at www.gcea.coop or by calling (970) 641-3520.

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