Montezuma County is now partially powered by the sun.
In March, 208 solar panels were installed on top of the county annex building, which houses the health department, senior center, Colorado State University Ag Extension, noxious weed department and veterans services.
The 78-kilowatt system is designed to cover the annual power needs of the building, said Mike Ellis with Shaw Solar, which installed the project.
Under a 25-year lease-purchase agreement with the county, Shaw covers the costs of the panels, installation and maintenance. The company and its investors benefit from a 30% tax credit.
The county leases the solar power from Shaw and saves 5% on its annual electric bill over the 25 years. However, after six years, the county has an option to purchase the system for $40,000 and save 60% of its electricity costs. The solar panels have an estimated lifespan of 40 years.
County Commissioner Jim Candelaria said the plan is to exercise the buyout option.
“We are purchasing a system to provide us affordable power for a long period of time,” Candelaria said. “It is a long-term investment that saves the taxpayer money by utilizing the natural resource of the sun.”
The system is under a net-metering agreement with Empire Electric Association. If the building generates more power than it uses, the excess is “banked” by Empire, and can be used later.
“When needed, we pull back the power we have already generated,” Candelaria said.
The project also consolidated the number of electric meters on the county annex down to one meter from five, which will save the county an additional $1,500 per year, officials said.
The county hopes to take advantage of the average 300 days of sun per year in Colorado. Similar solar projects are planned for the Road and Bridge Department, and for the building that houses the county treasurer, clerk and recorder, and assessor.
A vehicle charging station also is planned for the county annex. The station will be available to the public.
“It means net-zero energy, where we and the public can power our electric cars completely from the sun’s energy,” said Commissioner Keenan Ertel.
Montezuma County took delivery of three new electric vehicles in January as part of an effort to reduce fuel and maintenance costs. The county purchased three 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EVs to replace three older gasoline SUVs. The front-wheel-drive electric vehicles cost $30,100 each and have a range of 259 miles on one charge.