E-470 launches country's largest toll-road solar power purchase pact -- for free

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The unbearably hot weather is not all bad.

This was the recurring joke of a press conference under the blazing sun just off toll road E-470, where officials announced the launch of a twenty-year solar energy project that, by some measures, is the largest of its kind in the country.

It's a big investment that officials think will be quite successful due to the local climate. This logic was of course underscored by the hot, hot sun, ninety-degree-plus temperature, and clear blue sky at E-470's Toll Plaza C in Aurora, where a small crowd gathered for the unveiling of a new solar energy partnership.

Representatives of E-470, a 47-mile toll highway that runs along the eastern perimeter of the Denver metropolitan area, announced that they have installed solar panels that will power a significant portion of a seventeen-mile stretch of the road. The project is expected to save more than $1 million and significantly reduce local emissions.

"If you listen closely, you can hear 1,116 solar panels cooking in the sun," said Walt Arnason, manager of operations with E-740.

What's interesting about this project is that thoroughfare -- run by the E-470 Public Highway Authority, a political subdivision of the state -- didn't actually have to invest any money to make it happen.

As it turns out, it's also the largest solar power purchase agreement across the country for a toll road. There's one other toll road that has a similar solar setup, and it's also in Colorado.

E-470 has established a twenty-year solar power purchase agreement with two companies that have installed panels at no cost to E-470. And the equipment, put in place by Adamas Energy Investments and Martifer Solar USA, is connected to Xcel Energy's power grid. Across the 22 sites, there are thousands of panels, and over two decades, officials say they will help to prevent the emission of 24,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to 61,000 barrels of oil.

The solar arrays at the site of the press conference will eventually take care of 90 percent of the electricity needs locally. That includes powering hundreds of computers, lighting, building operations, the toll collection equipment and more.

"Our primary objectives for the project included: cut our rising energy cost, put some of our large amount of open space to productive use, and go green -- long-term sustainability," Arnason said.

"What a sunny day it is today," noted Richard Dovere, a managing partner with Adamas Energy. "We have a bright future ahead of us."

After getting the "It's really sunny" jokes out of his system, he added that these kinds of energy projects are crucial -- even if they can be initially difficult.

"These are not easy things to do," he conceded, "but simply because they're not easy, doesn't mean that they're not smart and not exceptionally important."

After the conference, Westword asked Aranson why the highway was partnering with Adamas, a company that has its main office in New York, and not a local solar business. He said this was where E-470 found the funding.

"There are not a lot of companies out there that are looking at funding power purchase agreements," he said. "It all financially has to come together."

Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan, who is also on E-470's board of directors, told Westword that this kind of project is a no-brainer. "[It's] this great location called Colorado. Solar power here works. It has worked for a long time. When you can save energy and save money, it only makes sense," he said. "We've been blessed with the location. We've gotta take advantage of it."

More from our Environment archive: "Plastic bags ban in Denver? Officials considering fees and more."

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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