Exactly what was needed by Holy Cross Energy: a semi-temporary solar farm

by Allen Best

In just under two days this winter, 554 solar panels were installed in a field next to the headquarters for Holy Cross Energy near Glenwood Springs, Colo.

In the future, they can be moved, if need be, and perhaps quickly. No concrete was poured in the ground. Panels were latched down, not screwed.

The solar farm comes from Powerfield, a new company with the simple mission to simplify solar technology.

“What we have done is simplified the hardware and installation process, and one of the outcomes we hope for is some simplified contracts and some simplified permitting,” explains Drew Bond, the co-founder and chief executive of Powerfield. The process of installation, he adds, can take hours and days, as opposed to weeks and months.

The solar field at Holy Cross is the largest of Powerfield’s projects so far.

However, Bond sees great potential for land adjacent to businesses where owners don’t want to commit to permanent infrastructure.

“Portability is definitely an important aspect to (land owners), and the (Powerfield) technology overcomes real barriers but also perceived barriers in the customers’ minds,” says Bond. “You may not want to put a bunch of steel and concrete in the ground, thinking you might later want to use it for other purposes. With our system, you don’t need to do so. It could be there for a year, or it could be there for 30 years.”

Bond reports discussions with a landfill operator in western Colorado who is currently precluded from using the site for a traditional solar farm. With the Powerfield technology, there’s no need to break through the layer that seals the landfill. However, he reports, regulations of the Bureau of Land Management that govern this particular landfill but also others prohibit even semi-permanent installations. He hopes that will change.

Yet another potential is on ranches and farms, such as in the corners of center-pivot parcels.

Bond has a jaw-dropping resume.

Drew Bond

He was a senior advisor for President George W. Bush at the U.S. Department of Energy and chief of staff at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank devoted to free enterprise, limited government, and individual freedom. He was also chief of staff at the Oklahoma Corporation Committee for Denise Bode and a legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Don Nickles, a Republican senator from Oklahoma who served from 1988 to 2005.

He has also been a serial entrepreneur who has been involved in multiple startups: a data-analytics company that provides software and services to electric utilities; a company that converts wood waste to energy productions; and an online media company dedicated to free-market ideas.

There’s more. He’s been around several blocks.

As for the installation at Holy Cross, the “barn-raising” required a trained electrician for installation but was otherwise done during one weekend by employees of the electrical cooperative and some community members.

Lisa Reed, the power supply supervisor for Holy Cross, said she became a convert to Powerfield’s system when she saw it being installed two years ago for testing at the National Renewable Energy Wind Testing Facility along Highway 93 between Arvada, Boulder, and Golden.

“The uniqueness of it really stuck with me and made it the perfect option for our campus,” she says. “It met the needs of a quality array, while leaving the ground open to changes in the future. And while they currently have only a few other installations, we are their largest.”

Within the service territory for Holy Cross, says Reed, she can see it being used on agricultural and other rural lands but even ski resort snowmaking operations, construction sites and other places where it’s important to maintain the future flexibility of land use.

“Need a power source quickly?” she explains. “This could work. I was actually discussing the Powerfield simple racks with a member recently as a temporary resource to maintain a remote water source.”

The Powerfield project was funded in part from a grant from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE), a Roaring Fork Valley nonprofit dedicated to energy efficiency. The Randy Udall Energy Pioneer Grant is among CORE’s most competitive, provided to innovative energy efficiency projects.

This solar installation along with an array using traditional rooftop design will offset 44% of current electricity consumption at the Holy Cross headquarters near Glenwood Springs.

A third solar array scheduled for later in 2020, will allow Holy Cross to offset more than 75% of its annual electric use in Glenwood Springs.

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Allen Best