Solar-powered highway in Colorado

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Facilities along a 17-mile segment of a Colorado toll highway are now powered by solar-generated electricity.  The project, which involved the construction of 22 solar installation sites along the route, was financed through a long-term power purchase agreement that allows the highway authority to avoid direct exposure to the capital costs of construction.

Solar photovoltaic panels at Goblin Valley State Park, Utah.

Colorado E-470 is a beltway that loops around the east side of the Denver metropolitan area.  The road is administered by the E-470 Public Highway Authority, a political subdivision of the State of Colorado.  Much of the authority's expenses center on road maintenance, but electricity costs are one component of its operational budget.  For example, electricity is used to power streetlights, signs, toll collection equipment, toll plazas, maintenance facilities and the authority's administrative headquarters.

Looking to reduce its operational costs, the highway authority focused on the development of solar photovoltaic facilities.  Rather than developing the project itself, or purchasing a turnkey project, the authority entered into a deal with Adamas Energy Investments to develop the project.  Under that deal, Adamas and solar developer Martifer Solar USA constructed solar PV electric generation facilities along part of E-470 at no direct cost to the authority.  Instead, the authority entered into a 20-year solar power purchase agreement with Adamas to purchase the project's output. 

According to EVStudio, the designer of the piers for the installations, the project is anticipated to produce 975,436 kWh in its first year of operation.  The exact pricing terms of the deal are not readily available to the public, but the authority has stated that it anticipates paying Adamas less per kilowatt-hour than it would to incumbent utility Xcel Energy.  According to the authority, the first six years' pricing is fixed, followed by a fixed annual increase for the 14 remaining years of the PPA.

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