This article first appeared in the Glenwood Post Independent. By Emily Hisel.
Colorado Mountain College students in front of a 10 kilowatt solar array on top of the New Castle Branch Library.

Colorado Mountain College students and instructors show off the 10 kilowatt solar array they installed atop the remodeled New Castle Branch Library.

When the Garfield Public Library District began construction projects in 2009, having energy efficient buildings was a goal for all six libraries.

The Parachute and Rifle branch libraries were the first buildings completed. Both were equipped with solar panels, and the Rifle Branch achieved LEED Gold certification.

However, when the New Castle Branch remodeling discussions began, it was found that an installation of around 10 kilowatt hours of rooftop solar panels would cost nearly $80,000.

That did not stop library staff from pursuing environmentally and fiscally responsible options. The Library District’s facilities manager, Jerry Morris, reached out to Jon Prater and Chris Ellis at Colorado Mountain College’s Integrated Energy Program with an idea. The collaboration that resulted from this conversation has benefited everyone involved.

The idea was to have students enrolled in CMC’s “Introduction to Photovoltaics” and “Photovoltaic Installation” classes work on the planning and installation of a 10 kilowatt solar system on the New Castle Branch Library’s roof as part of their coursework.

In the end, about 75 percent of the students who helped design the system in “Introduction to Photovoltaics” came back and participated in the installation as part of their lab work for the second course.

This benefited the libraries by getting in-kind student labor to install the panels, and the students received real-world training.

Instructor Chris Ellis said, “It’s one thing to do it in a book, it’s another thing to actually tighten down a lug, or a bolt, or something to a certain torque test range, and to actually put the panels in place, and see how the electricity works, and test the system so they can recognize what the voltage and what the current is. So the hands-on experience part was very beneficial.”

“Installation of the solar system for the New Castle Library has served our students well by providing real-world learning to complement their classroom-based learning,” said CMC instructional chair Barbara K.V. Johnson. “This brings joy to all of us when we see our students working in the community to create better futures for all.”

The CMC students could do a lot of the installation, but a NABCEP (North American Board of Certified of Energy Practitioners) certified master electrician had to oversee the project. Jordan Arnhold, CEO of Green Tech Electrical, volunteered for the job.

“We kind of just made it a team effort where everybody worked together, and the students felt free to come to me and ask me questions,” said Arnhold. “It was nice to have that involvement with the Garfield County Libraries, and have something good with CMC, and have us all work together.”

The Garfield County Public Library Foundation was also awarded a grant to help with the costs of the solar panels and materials. This $20,000 from the Xcel Renewable Energy Trust was boosted by an additional $9,660 in rebates from Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Program. The program offers a cash rebate for each kilowatt of solar panel installed and a credit for the power the system produces each month.

Xcel Energy also buys back the excess power generated by the solar installation when the electric production is greater than the building demand. This helps offsets the Library District’s long-term operational costs.

“Here’s a success story that others can learn from and hopefully experience themselves,” said Arnhold.

The Garfield County Libraries want to thank Colorado Mountain College staff, students and volunteers for making this possible for the Library District, taxpayers, and everyone who enjoys the new, beautiful New Castle Branch Library.