Rooftop systems to add to District 51 solar power

Phil Castle, The Business Times

What goes on inside Mesa County public schools is increasingly powered by what goes on outside those schools — the sun shining down on rooftop solar systems.

The installation of systems at four more schools is expected to increase to 18 percent the proportion of electricity used by Mesa County School District 51 that’s generated by solar power.

Still more electricity could come from a proposed solar garden in Grand Junction if plans for that facility are finalized as expected.

The District 51 School Board approved a contract with Namasté Solar to install rooftop photovoltaic systems at Central, Fruita Monument and Grand Junction high schools as well as Nisley Elementary School.

Eric Anderson, resource conservation manager for District 51, said the systems should be installed by the end of the year and generate a total of 1.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

Namasté Solar, a Boulder-based company, will install and maintain the systems. Real Capital Solutions in Denver will finance the project to take advantage of federal tax credits and accelerated depreciation of equipment unavailable to the school district since it doesn’t pay taxes, Anderson said.

School District 51 will pay for the electricity produced by the systems, but at a rate that’s projected to save the district $2.1 million over the next 20 years, Anderson said. The district will save $75,000 the first year.

The new rooftop systems will meet anywhere from 15 percent to 92 percent of the electricity requirements of the buildings where they’re installed, Anderson said.

The latest project will bring to 11 the number of District 51 sites featuring solar systems. Together, those systems generate enough electricity to meet about 18 percent of the district’s requirement, he said.

The latest project also means solar systems will be installed on most of the District 51 roofs that meet the strength and age requirements to accommodate the panels, Anderson said.

There’s potential to install additional systems after aging roofs on some buildings have been replaced, he added.

Meanwhile, though, still more energy could come from a solar garden proposed for land District 51 owns near 29 and D 1/4 roads. Agreements that would allow the project to proceed haven’t yet been finalized or approved.

District 51 could be among the subscribers of a 4 million kilowatt photovoltaic facility to be erected by Ecoplexus, a California-based solar energy development firm. Other potential subscribers include the City of Grand Junction and Grand Junction Housing Authority as well as Mesa County and Alpine Bank.