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MDS goes green without upfront green

A crew with Simplicity Solar installs solar panels on the roof of the headquarters of Mesa Developmental Services in Grand Junction. Pictured, from left, are Clint Larson, Thomas Barnes and Brian Tullio. When the $1.9 million project is completed, solar panels will be installed on 14 MDS sites in the Grand Valley and save the nonprofit organization an estimated $47,000 a year in reduced utility costs. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Even as workers install solar panels on the roof above his office, Ed Wieland cites the benefits of a massive project to Mesa Developmental Services.

Once photovoltaic panels have been installed on 14 MDS buildings in the Grand Valley, the nonprofit organization will save an estimated $47,000 a year in reduced electricity costs. And that’s not counting the environmental advantages associated with generating electricity from a renewable energy source.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Wieland, vice president of finance for MDS, which provides a wide range of services to people with developmental disabilities.

Through an arrangement with a national company, MDS won’t spend a dime on equipment or installation costs. Rather, MDS has agreed to purchase electricity generated by the panels over the next 20 years.

Wieland said he was approached by ClearEnergy Group last year about the possibility of a solar project for MDS. ClearEnergy Group secures investors who pay for equipment and installation for nonprofits and other tax-exempt entities, such as school districts and government entities. Investors receive tax credits associated with the projects. The entities that work with investors agree in turn to purchase electricity generated by the equipment.

The arrangement makes it possible for organizations like MDS that can’t take advantage of tax credits to install solar projects, Wieland said.

ClearEnergy Group has what Wieland described as a “strong track record” that includes projects with the Douglas and Jefferson County school districts and City of Breckenridge.

At MDS, solar panels will be installed on 14 MDS buildings — including its large headquarters on Grand Avenue in Grand Junction as well as group homes and day services facilities located in the Grand Valley.

Wieland expects MDS to begin using electricity generated by the panels by the middle to the end of February.
Wieland said the panels are expected to generate a total of 466,000 kilowatt hours a year — enough to meet about
60 percent of the electricity requirements of the buildings.

MDS will initially pay 6.6 cents for each kilowatt hour of electricity generated by the panels, less than the 10.3 cents per kilowatt hour it pays Xcel Energy. Wieland said.

The difference amounts to about $47,000 in savings a year and $940,000 over the course of 20 years, he said.
That’s money that can put to other uses or help to counter what Wieland expects could be declining government funding for the services MDS provides its clients. “It’s one more opportunity, one more piece of the puzzle to allow us to continue doing what we do best.”

Wieland estimated the total solar project for MDS will cost $1.9 million, of which $1 million will go to Simplicity Solar, a Grand Junction company handling installation.

That means the project offers still another benefit in bringing in dollars to the local economy, Wieland said.
Jeff Evans, a project development consultant at Simplicity Solar, agreed. “We’ve devoted all our resources for the past four months to this project,” Evans said. “We’ve added three full-time staff, contracted with two local electrical firms and outsourced part of the work to local wiring, concrete and metal work companies.”

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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