Solar, Geothermal Could Fuel College Campuses

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An area of land between the existing Gila Community College and proposed ASU campus off Highway 260 could accommodate enough solar and geothermal energy to power both campuses for years to come by the end of the year.

GCC officials are reviewing plans for a 7.5-megawatt solar system from companies working with a Separate Legal Entity (SLE) created to build and run a four-year college campus in Payson.

The SLE was formed just weeks ago and is one of the few public entitles with the ability to generate and distribute power, said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, who was instrumental in establishing the SLE.

Evans’ plan calls for installing an alternative energy system incorporating state-of-the-art photovoltaic and geothermal on a piece of currently empty land located east of GCC. Once built, the system could save GCC up to 87 percent of its energy costs a year. The system would also help power a future four-year college campus.

GCC has limited time to decide if it will go with Evans’ plan.

To receive APS energy incentives, GCC needs to have a system in place and running by the end of the year. That means it needs to select a company by September.

Evans is adamant his system could be ready by then.

However, GCC is also looking at private providers, who could install a solar-only system at both the Payson and Globe campuses. Unlike Evans’ plan, which calls for geothermal as well as solar power, a private company would likely only install solar panels over the parking lots.

This means less power and fewer savings.

Evans said he doesn’t want to stop GCC from pursuing alternative companies, but his plan offers substantial savings beyond a solar-only facility.

For example, because Evans’ plans calls for connecting the geothermal system and solar panels, the project would receive a 30-percent savings from APS.

If the project used geothermal alone, it would only qualify for a 10-percent savings, said Tom Loeffler, GCC board member. Combining systems will yield greater savings.

The GCC board will likely hold a special meeting in September to determine which proposal to embrace.

Tom Harris, managing member with PV Advanced Concepts, a solar project developer and financial broker, is working on the solar-only plan.

Harris came to GCC in late July with the idea to cover the Gila Pueblo campus with a 127-kilowatt generating system and the Payson campus with a 100-kilowatt system.

The Globe system would generate a 20-year savings of $225,000 taking into account a 3 percent annual APS rate increase.

The Payson system would give the college a $4,000 a year savings or $200,000 over 20 years with a 3 percent annual APS rate increase.

Harris’ plan would use outside financing sources to fund the project, which means no upfront costs for the college.

GCC would pay back the cost of the system over 15 to 20 years with a buyout option available.

Under Evans’ plan, a large pool of private investors that have pledged hundreds of millions to build an ASU campus would fund the project.

GCC would pay the SLE back over five to seven years, Loeffler said.

Evans has plans to build not one but three alternative energy sites around town. The first site, near GCC, would power phase one of an ASU campus.

The second site, located south of Highway 260, would power phase two of the campus. The final site is the Payson Event Center, which Evans has proposed covering with solar panels.

One area Evans didn’t count on covering was the Globe campus.

Originally, Evans’ group was only looking at Payson, since it ties directly in with plans for ASU.

But at an Aug. 18 GCC school board meeting, President Robert Ashford asked if the companies working with Evans’ group would also be interested in installing geothermal and solar in Globe.

Leon Keddington, solar team leader for the SLE, said he would be happy to look at doing a system there as well.

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