Co-op’s Landfill “Brownfield” Transforming to Solar “Greenfield”

San Miguel Power Association, GRID Alternatives Colorado and the Colorado Energy Office recently announced the development of a community solar array that will lower the electric bills of qualified low-income residents in SMPA’s service territory. The project is not only part of a statewide initiative to reduce energy costs for utilities’ highest need customers, it is also an effort to turn a limited-use site into a clean energy generator.

With an unwavering vision to reclaim a local landfill, San Miguel County worked with its partners in project development to turn a “brownfield” into a “greenfield” and harness renewable energy that will help the local community for decades to come. Project supporters also include Energy Outreach Colorado, the Telluride Foundation and EcoAction Partners.

According to SMPA Chief Executive Officer Brad Zaporski, the rural electric cooperative has been looking to increase its local renewable energy generation portfolio in a way that makes the resource available to a larger portion of its members and keeps utility bills affordable. Turning an old landfill into a site of local clean renewable energy generation adds an additional layer of benefit to the community and the environment.

“SMPA has long been a leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy,” said SMPA Board President Rube Felicelli. “We are now making home efficiency upgrades and local renewable energy readily available to our lower income members through SMPA’s ‘IQ’ or ‘income-qualified’ Weatherization and Solar Programs. We are excited to join with our partners to reduce our carbon footprint while also reducing the financial burden of high electrical bills on local families in need.”

“When we see projects like this, we are filled with optimism,” said Sandy Stavnes, acting assistant regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. “With this project, community partners came together to turn property that had limited reuse potential into something that will provide energy to community members in need as well as significant environmental benefits. A bonus is the solar panels on top of the landfill will assure the landfill cover is maintained.”

This is the sixth low-income community solar demonstration project developed in partnership with local utilities through a $1.2 million grant GRID Alternatives received from CEO in August 2015. Each project is piloting a slight variation on the low-income community solar model to address the unique needs of rural utility service areas and their customers. The projects selected are both affordable and scalable for utility partners and offer great potential to expand across the state.

“This project, with its multiple bottom lines — energy cost saving for families, renewable energy, brownfield reclamation, and local solar job training — is a win for the whole community and a model for the state and the nation,” said Chuck Watkins, executive director of GRID Alternatives Colorado.

Colorado Energy Office Director Jeff Ackermann said, “This demonstration project with GRID and SMPA reinforces our low cost approach to community solar, which blends the delivery of clean-generated electricity and assisting our neighbors in need.”