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Main Mall in downtown Durango goes big on solar power

Owner to install 600 panels on rooftop, making it the largest array in town
A crane lifts solar panels to the roof of the Main Mall in downtown Durango on Tuesday. The owner of the mall plans to install 600 solar panels on the roof, making it the largest solar array in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The Main Mall began a construction project Tuesday to add 600 solar panels to the roof of its building at 835 Main Ave., making it the largest solar powered system in Durango.

Anyone walking or driving by in the 800 block of Main Avenue likely noticed a crane lifting solar panels and structural pieces for the project. Living Solar, a company based in Durango, is completing the installation, which is expected to be finished by mid-November.

Main Mall owner Ted Hermesman said he has wanted to install the solar panels for about 15 years to make the mall more environmentally sustainable while saving money on energy costs. But in the early years of solar technology, it wasn’t an economically viable undertaking, he said

Hermesman said the project will cost almost $800,000 and will offset about 50% of the Main Mall’s electricity usage and carbon emissions. He said the return on investment will take between 10 and 15 years. The project was financed by Eric Eicher and Alpine Bank. Hermesman’s main reason for switching to solar power is to have a consistent price for kilowatt production.

“Meaning if we’re paying 14 cents a kilowatt right now from La Plata Electric and it jumps to 28 cents a kilowatt, my price stays at the same price,” he said.

Living Solar founder Ben Jason said the solar energy will feed straight into the mall instead of being stored. However, any excess power not used will go back into the grid and sold back to La Plata Electric Association using a net meter system.

The LPEA net meter measures and distinguishes between the flow of electricity from the grid to the user and the flow of electricity from user to the grid.

The mall will draw electricity from the grid at night, but will be powered by solar panels during the day while delivering electricity to the net meter.

Each solar panel provides about 450 watts of power, which means the entire project will generate about 270,000 watts.

“It makes a lot of financial sense for building owners to basically lock in the cost of the power so they don’t have to deal with the cost of power going up in the future,” Jason said. “It’s locally produced renewable energy on-site.”

Jason said there is no downside to Hermesman investing in solar energy, and Hermesman can win financially and environmentally by switching.

The exact completion date depends somewhat on lead times for obtaining necessary gear.

“Because materials have been so hard to get this year, there’s some of the big switch gear that has got 12 to 14 week lead times,” Jason said.

Hermesman said the Main Mall has the infrastructure to handle a large solar array because of the way it was rebuilt after it burned in 1974. He wanted to make sure the panels would be easy to remove in the event of future renovations, such as adding a third or fourth story.

Electric vehicle charging stations may also be in the mall’s future, but those plans have not been finalized.

tbrown@durangoherald.com

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