credit for AERIAL photo: SunSense Solar

“Sunsense is both pleased and proud to have contributed to this high-profile, high-performance, pace-setting project. As the largest effort to date for Sunsense, the merging of government, utility, finance and design/engineering along with the challenging execution of construction has provided a model for future projects in the PV and Energy Storage arena. Safety and quality were the primary drivers as Sunsense and our partners marched through the learning curve to achieve what is now an enviable project benefiting Colorado Mountain College and the surrounding community.”

– Scott Ely, President and Founder of Sunsense Solar

Driving through the serenity of sagebrush and old juniper trees in Spring Valley near Glenwood Springs, it’s almost impossible to imagine that hidden behind them lies what was the largest combined solar battery storage facility in the state of Colorado at the time it was built. Welcome to the Sunsense Solar and the Ameresco/HCE Solar & Energy Storage Project.

A Location Thanks to Locals

Through cold winter months and scorching summers, the Sunsense crew worked tirelessly, planning, siting, digging, and innovating to make renewable energy more accessible to rural communities in western Colorado. At the heart of this endeavor is Scott Ely, President and Founder of Sunsense, a local legend equally adept at crunching numbers and navigating muddy project sites. “We have essentially built a power plant,” Scott mentioned putting the size of the project into perspective, and for several months now, the plant is fully operational.

Installing a utility-scale solar and storage project in the mountains is an extraordinary accomplishment and as you might guess, one that didn’t happen overnight. What brought us to this point is a full-circle story dating back to the late 1980s, but more on that later…

HCE and The Big 3

Against the backdrop of Mt. Sopris, a special partnership unfolded, comprising a forward-thinking utility, a cleantech integrator, a generous landowner, and a hardworking installer with deep community connections. When Holy Cross Energy took the next step in their 100×30 goal by issuing an all-source RFP in 2020, Scott and the Sunsense Solar team saw an opportunity to make a difference close to home. Thanks to local insight on a great site (shoutout to Katherine Rushton over at Colorado Clean Energy Fund!) and a long-time relationship with Colorado Mountain College (CMC) who owned the land, the project began to take shape.

With Sunsense at the helm for planning and design and the perfect location approved, the only ingredient missing from this powerful project recipe was a developer to own and operate the project after completion. Following a proposal process, CMC chose to lease the land to Ameresco, finalizing this renewable energy dream team and leading the project breaking ground on Nov. 1, 2021.

The Power Plant

The photographs above capture the innovative design of the project, strategically utilizing natural contours and a combination of fixed and tracking solar racking to maximize solar exposure. The array, composed of 13,500 panels, generates 5 MW of energy or enough to power more than 1,000 homes. Additionally, 5 MW of battery storage providing 15 MWh of backup power is housed in two 40-ft and two 53-ft containers house on a surprisingly compact BESS pad.

This remote renewable energy system not only generates power but also enhances community safety by bringing generation and storage closer to the people it serves. According to an Ameresco Press Release, the array can supply renewable solar energy to approximately 1,000 homes, with 5 megawatts of battery storage available for discharge during peak-demand periods for Holy Cross Energy.

The culmination of these efforts is a Power Purchase Agreement between Ameresco and Holy Cross Energy that benefits each and every Holy Cross Energy customer in addition to providing a lower negotiated rate for electricity for all of the CMC campuses in the HCE territory.

And despite all of the moving pieces and partnerships, it all comes back to one influential former CMC student and longtime valued member of the Western Slope Community. Stay tuned for part 2…

Check out the resources below to learn more about SunSense and the Colorado Mountain College Solar + Battery Storage Complex.

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