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Spotlight on solar

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

With energy prices rising, businesses and individuals are beginning to more often consider alternative energy solutions. Todd Sheveland, left, and Ben Jason of Durango company Living Solar measure solar panels on the roof of a Durango building Tuesday afternoon.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

A conference of alternative-energy proponents last week in Durango ended with a resolve to broaden the use of solar technology in the residential market.

It’s a logical move because the sun is available year round, said Gregg Dubit, executive director of conference co-host Four Corners Office of Resource Efficiency, or 4CORE.

The other co-host of the half-day session Friday at La Plata Electric Association was Silicon Valley-based Optony Inc., a consultant with offices in the U.S. and China that offers planning, implementation and management services in the solar industry.

At the end of the conference, municipal and utility representatives and solar-system installers agreed to form a work group. They hope homeowner associations and the general public will support their goal.

Participants in the work group would share ideas about how to eliminate barriers and streamline their community’s entry into the solar market, Dubit said.

Optony, through the Southwest Solar Transformation Initiative, offers local roadmaps for communities that cover permitting, planning and zoning, financial options and solar-market development.

Stakeholders of the initiative in Southwest Colorado are Durango, Pagosa Springs, Cortez, La Plata County, LPEA and Empire Electric Association.

The Southwest Solar Transformation Initiative is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge, a program announced a year ago. The Department of Energy approved Optony to lead regional teams in increasing solar-energy use among businesses and homeowners in Colorado, Utah, Nevada and the San Joaquin Valley in California.

Mary Beth Miles, the sustainability director for the city of Durango, sees the work group as a way to use the collective purchasing power of communities to acquire solar panels and inverters at a reduced price.

Doug Sparks, member services manager at Cortez-based Empire Electric, said the cooperative developed a solar garden two years ago to allow small investors to enter the solar field.

“It’s a garden because it’s too small to be a farm,” Sparks said. Five individuals and public radio station KSJD in Cortez have 48 solar panels in a field behind the Empire Electric office.

Empire made net metering, connecting private solar arrays to the grid to offset power use, available in 2008, Sparks said. A one-page application is user friendly, he said.

James Dickhoff, planning director for the city of Pagosa Springs, said broad discussions can show how to share ideas and work together.

“It’s a way to define what local entities should look at,” Dickhoff said.

Thomas Yurysta, a senior project manager from Optony, spoke at the conference about the increase nationally in solar energy development, projections for the future, policies, programs and funding.

Dubit said widespread use of solar can produce energy efficiency and that it makes sense because energy prices are rising.

LPEA rates increased on Jan. 1. The base charge increased from $15.60 per month to $20.50; the use charge rose from 10.4 cents per kilowatt-hour to 11.3 cents per kWh.


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