Solar success: Installs on city, county facilities save thousands each month

Federal tax incentive for solar extended 10 years

The 418-kilowatt solar array at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, shown during construction in fall 2021, is saving the airport $3,000 per month in electricity usage costs.
McKinstry/Courtesy photo

The three solar arrays installed at Steamboat Springs and Routt County facilities in December 2021 are saving the two entities combined approximately $8,500 per month in electricity bills.

Yampa Valley Regional Airport Director Kevin Booth said the airport is experiencing “significant cost savings” of up to $3,000 per month on electricity bills following the installation of the 250-kilowatt ground-mounted solar array.

“It was a great investment from the financial standpoint for the airport,” Booth said.

According to project consultant company McKinstry, the airport in Hayden is on track to save $36,000 and 389,600 kilowatt hours of electricity during its first year of performance, or approximately 25% on annual electric bills.

“The arrays are currently on track to meet expected performance goals for the first year,” said Alexa Vinci, a construction project engineer at McKinstry.

With electricity service for the airport terminal plus outdoor airfield lighting, Booth said the airport’s electricity bills can reach $10,000 to $12,000 per month. He said the airport operations hope to further reduce electricity expenses in 2024 with the upgrade to more efficient LED lighting on the parallel taxiways that represent 35% of airfield lighting.

A 41-kilowatt rooftop solar array at the city’s Transit Operations Center off 13th Street is on track to save $5,076 in electricity costs and 57,120 kilowatt hours during the first year of operation to cover about 37% of the facility’s overall electric use.

“The transit facility has already undertaken several ‘green’ initiatives such as sky-lighting, wash water recycling, waste oil being used to heat large areas of the building, heat and cooling distribution (through high-efficiency ceiling fans), and motion detecting lighting,” said Jonathan Flint, transit manager.

Steamboat Springs Facilities Manager Brian Ashley said the city hopes to double the size of the solar array at the transit office after roof upgrades are completed in 2024 to allow for the expansion.

In other energy saving upgrades, Ashley said the city currently is replacing a 20-year-old rooftop heating unit and an older natural gas-fired boiler at the transit building to increase efficiency by about 12%, including install of a 95% efficient boiler.

The larger 418-kilowatt, ground-mounted solar array at the Steamboat Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant also is performing well and is on track to save the city $60,300 in annual costs and 643,000 kilowatt hours in electricity usage during the first year. That represents about 25% of the facility’s usage.

Residential, off-grid solar systems

The federal government extension of a 30% investment tax credit for solar installations approved as part of the Inflation Reduction Act in August is good news for homeowners and installation companies.

The solar tax credit has been in place since 2006 but was set to expire after 2023, according to Residential property owners who install a photovoltaic system between 2022 and 2032 will receive a 30% tax credit, which reduces to 26% in 2033 and 22% in 2034.

Colin McCaulley, owner of Sunwise Solar in Steamboat, said his company has installed about 12 residential systems so far this season while employing six workers full time from April to Thanksgiving. McCaulley experienced an increase in installs for new residential homes as well as off-grid systems such as a large ranch near Granby that will save some $100,000 in diesel fuel use each year.

McCaulley said the high cost to run new electrical service power lines to remote residential properties is improving cost comparisons for solar installations.

“We are finding it’s very competitive to just go off-grid lately,” said McCaulley, while at work on a ground-mounted system near Sleeping Giant mountain.

The installer noted that solar equipment options on the market continue to expand, and solar panels continue to improve in efficiency. Yet, pandemic supply chain issues increased some costs, such as for metal racking systems.

In another sign of solar interest in the region, the Northwest Solar Co-op that launched in May for residents in Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties enrolled 138 members in the current co-op that closed in early September. Co-op members selected Atlasta Solar Center in Grand Junction as the installation vendor. The co-op is facilitated by the nonprofit Colorado Solar United Neighbors (SUN) that provides guidance and group pricing power.

Yampa Valley Electric Association Public Relations Specialist Carly Davidson said Thursday that the electric co-op completed 57 net-metering interconnections in 2021 and has completed 49 so far this year. She said those net-metering applications that serve renewable energy projects continue to increase year-over-year.

YVEA also has plans in the works to build a 4-megawatt solar array near the Craig YVEA office with potential completion by the end of 2023.

“The supply chain and contractor availability influence the construction and timing of the project,” Davidson said of the planned 4-megawatt array.

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