Glenwood Springs-based electric cooperative Holy Cross Energy has taken two major steps recently to expand its solar generation capacity and further its renewable energy goals.
On Tuesday, Colorado Mountain College Trustees gave final conditional approval to a land lease for Holy Cross to build a 4.5-megawatt photovoltaic solar generation array at the college’s Spring Valley campus.
Also this week, Holy Cross (HCE) announced that it has completed the purchase of three existing community solar arrays from Clean Energy Collective (CEC) that are already connected to HCE’s electric distribution system.
The CEC projects were developed over the past nine years, including one located at the west end of the Rifle-Garfield County Airport, the Sunnyside facility east of Carbondale and another one near El Jebel, said Steve Beuning, vice president of power supply and programs for HCE.
A newer section of the Rifle facility will remain in CEC’s hands for now, since the tax credits used to develop it have not yet expired, Beuning explained.
CEC has been one of the primary developers of solar electric generation facilities in Garfield County and the Roaring Fork Valley, working in partnership with HCE.
Recently, though, CEC decided to exit the power supply business, driven by changes in its business conditions and tax policy landscape, according to a Holy Cross news release.
HCE offered to purchase the company’s assets for the benefit of its 230 cooperative members, who have participated by owning one or more panels as part of HCE’s Community Solar program.
HCE members own the solar panels on the arrays while HCE now owns the infrastructure. The electricity produced from the arrays is sold to HCE.
“This purchase will allow HCE to continue to provide clean energy to CEC solar energy customers from the three community solar arrays within HCE territory,” the release stated. “Revenues from the power sales provide credits to participating members, which help to offset their power costs.”
Meanwhile, the CMC-Spring Valley lease involves a partnership with Ameresco Solar to lease about 22 acres of campus property south of the disc golf course for Ameresco to construct a solar facility. It would then sell the generated power to Hoy Cross.
The CMC project helps to further HCE’s goal to achieve 70% of its generating capacity from renewable energy sources, and also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70% by 2030, Beuning said.
It also benefits CMC by allowing the college to build up Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to offset its electric utility costs, he said.
“CMC will be able to demonstrate an offset up to 100 percent renewable energy, and if it produces more than that, which we think it will, there will be additional benefits to all Holy Cross members,” Beuning said.
That fits in with CMC’s own “climate commitment” to be completely carbon neutral by 2050, said Sean Nesbitt, director of facilities for CMC.
CMC has smaller solar gardens in Leadville and Rifle, and rooftop arrays in Aspen and Breckenridge, Nesbitt said.
“But those don’t give us RECs,” he said. “This will be the first opportunity to qualify for RECs without costing the college any money, because we’re bringing in an outside developer to build it.”
If those credits extend beyond Spring Valley electricity needs, it then benefit’s CMC’s Aspen and Edwards campuses, which also are located within the Holy Cross service area.
That’s a good likelihood, since Spring Valley typically uses about 1.3 megawatts of electricity in a year, and the new solar facility is expected to generate 4.5 megawatts. The facility is also to have a 5-megawatt battery storage system, Beuning said.
Over the past year, Holy Cross has issued requests for additional supplies of renewable energy, and received 51 offers for more than 500 megawatts.
“That’s way more than we could use,” Beuning said, but goes to show the abundance of renewable energy potential in the region.
“We are in negotiations with developers for projects totaling about 100 megawatts of total supply,” one of those sources being the CMC project, he said.
Holy Cross also has wind power supplies from facilities on Colorado’s eastern plains, Beuning said.