Complex partnership between private and public entities
By Katherine Nettles
The Gunnison-Crested Butte (GUC) airport terminal flipped the switch to activate its solar array this week, with a ceremony held on Tuesday afternoon, November 7. The solar array was built in conjunction with the airport’s massive $26.4 million renovation that wrapped up this year, and the array itself has been nearly complete for many months and waiting on one critical part due to chain supply issues. While the terminal renovation was covered entirely by federal grant funding, the array is the result of a partnership between the City of Gunnison, Western Colorado University and Gunnison County and a grant from the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA).
The 847-kilowatt array covers the paid parking lot in front of the terminal, and will generate between 1.29 and 1.45 million kilowatt hours annually. This is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 350 tonnes per year.
The partners financed the array using a power purchase agreement (PPA). The PPA allows a third-party solar developer, Onyx Renewables, to own, finance, operate and maintain the system. Onyx is contracted to sell energy back to the City of Gunnison below retail rates, and the city has agreed to pass on a portion of those savings to both the county and Western in return for their investments.
Gunnison County assistant county manager for operations and sustainability John Cattles flipped the symbolic switch on Tuesday afternoon with a congregation of county commissioners and staff, Gunnison and Western officials and Onyx representatives who lauded the collaboration between private enterprise and public entities.
“It’s a big accomplishment. It took a long time to come together; it’s been sitting here looking like it was done for a year, but there were some supply chain constraints,” said Cattles. “We’re finally ready…and this will be providing energy savings for the next 20 years or more.”