Pueblo Businesses Take Advantage of Plentiful Sunlight to Trim Energy Costs

With a thriving alternative-energy business sector and plenty of local companies building and rehabbing facilities to take advantage of natural resources, Pueblo’s going green at both ends of the spectrum.

With strong sunlight almost every day of the year, solar energy is leading the charge here. New technologies are allowing businesses of all sizes to add solar power arrays to their buildings, and the effort is proving to be worth the cost.

Solar Array Boosts Savings at Andrews Foodservice
At Andrews Foodservice Systems, a new, 100,000-square-foot warehouse is powered primarily by a 100,800-watt photovoltaic energy system designed and installed by Vibrant Solar Inc. It has 500 solar panels, and is expected to reduce Andrews’ electricity demand by at least 23 percent once it’s fully operational, says George Andrews III, president and chief executive officer.

“It went into operation in March 2010, and we anticipate that we’re going to see those savings,” Andrews says. “It’s already helping us with certain contracts, because we’re considered a ‘green’ company now, and so it’s good for us in a number of ways.”

Solar Roast Coffee Breaks Ground With Roaster
On the “small but mighty” side you’ll find Solar Roast Coffee, which was begun in 2004 by brothers Michael and David Hartkop. They built their first solar coffee roaster from an old satellite dish, and have been upgrading and expanding their groundbreaking technology to keep pace with the company’s success ever since.

“We’re currently in the process of developing our fifth-generation machine, and raising capital to build our first-ever roof-mounted roaster,” Michael says. “We’re going to build into a historic building downtown, where nobody’s done solar yet, so that’ll be our next step.”

Black Hills Energy Builds New Gas-fired Plant
On a much more massive scale, Black Hills Energy also is utilizing natural energy, albeit from a more ground-up approach. The energy giant is building a new power plant to serve the Pueblo area, and will power the $500 million facility with natural gas, rather than coal, to lessen its environmental impact. The gas-fired plant is set to open by January 2012.

The plant’s ability to scale its output up or down depending on need is key to this area as solar-energy installations can sometimes cause spikes, says Christopher Burke, vice president of operations for Black Hills Energy-Colorado Electric.

“PV-solar is approaching the point at which it begins to make more economic sense for all customers,” Burke says, adding that the plant will be able to provide needed boosts in power if the sun is blocked by cloud cover, or the wind stops blowing to power turbines.

“The quick-response capability incorporated into the design of the Pueblo Airport Generating Station projects make its units ideally suited for this purpose,” Burke says.

CSU-Pueblo Leads With Alt-energy Studies, Pilot Projects
The world of academia is also heavily invested in the region’s green future. Known as the ‘Green University,’ Colorado State University-Pueblo has research programs in everything from alternative fuels and engines to atmospheric monitoring. CSU-Pueblo also has many physical manifestations of new technology, including an 18.9-kilowatt solar array that ties directly into the engineering building’s electrical system, new LEED-certified residence halls and an LED street lighting pilot initiative in the larger Pueblo community.

SECRES, CSU-Pueblo Sponsor Expo, Solar Tour
The university also co-sponsors the annual REPowering Southern Colorado renewable-energy expo every August in tandem with the Southeast Colorado Renewable Energy Society, or SECRES. That kind of outreach to both the business and residential communities will be key in the city’s success as a growing new-energy hub, says Tom Corlett, a co-founder of SECRES and a principal in Sustainable Buildings Concepts.

“We want to keep doing things like the expo, and our annual National Solar Tour, that shows people projects that are functioning, and the savings that are being realized as opposed to just being forecast,” Corlett says. “Our goal is to show people that it’s actually working; the more we do that, the more people will want to come here, and we’ll become the solar capital of Colorado.”