In Colorado, a Solar Garden Honors Late Co-op Board Member

In Colorado, volunteers install a solar panel during a “barn raising” of a solar garden honoring Adam Palmer, a Holy Cross Energy director who died last year. (Photo By: Anna Stonehouse)

When Holy Cross Energy board member Adam Palmer died in a skiing accident last year, residents of Eagle, Colorado, vowed to honor his commitment to sustainable energy and social justice.

Last week, nearly 80 volunteers, including Palmer’s friends and relatives, co-op directors and environmental advocates, made good on that pledge. Over two days, they built the Adam Palmer Solar Garden, a community array that will move the town closer to its goal of 80% clean energy by 2050 and provide a way for low-income co-op members to save money on their bills with local renewables.

Arriving at dawn on April 27 and 28 for the solar “barn-raising,” volunteers donned hard hats, goggles and gloves and worked in shifts to assemble the 540 panels. A ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 28 at Holy Cross Energy’s Cooley Mesa Operations Center in Gypsum marked the completion of the project.

“He was such a force in the community; people really wanted to do something. Throughout the two days, people just kept showing up,” said Jenna Weatherred, vice president of member and community relations at Holy Cross Energy, adding that organizers had to create extra shifts to handle the flood of volunteers.

The 200-kilowatt solar garden uses a “racking system” designed by PowerField Energy that requires no construction to install. Another 200-kilowatt garden using the same technology is located at HCE’s headquarters in Glenwood Springs.

The memorial solar garden is the co-op’s second offering under its Income-Qualified Community Solar program, which cuts bills in half for members earning 80% of the median area income. Sign-ups start this summer, and up to 90 members can join for two years. The first income-qualified project, a 145-kilowatt array that’s also in Gypsum, came online in 2016 and serves 45 members for a two-year period.

“Participation is by lottery, and we limit it to two years to give more people a chance to join,” said Weatherred, adding that the co-op is conducting a formal study on how to support the energy needs of low- and moderate-income members.

Holy Cross Energy, Walking Mountains Science Center, the Adam Palmer Sustainability Fund and Eagle County, where Palmer was director of sustainable communities, collaborated on the solar garden project.

“This solar garden supports Adam’s personal mantra of ‘clean power’ and supports Eagle County’s climate goals by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and providing energy assistance for households that need it the most,” said John Gitchell, environmental manager for Eagle County.

Palmer, 49, was elected to Holy Cross Energy’s board in 2009 and served until his death in February 2021. He and two friends died in an avalanche while skiing in the backcountry of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Palmer also was director of Eagle County’s Sustainable Communities program and a town council member.

Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.