IBM to build Boulder’s largest solar array


Last updated 11/24/2017 at Noon

Photo by Vicky Dorvee Looking Southwest from Monarch Rd. (away from IBM facility), the 54 acre site where IBM will be building Boulder’s largest solar array, slated to be completed by the end of 2018.

In a deal that helps both IBM and Xcel Energy reach their ambitious renewable energy objectives, the parties announced that by late 2018 a large array of solar panels will be up and running on 54 acres of IBM’s Gunbarrel facility. Xcel Energy’s stated goal is to provide 55 percent of its annual energy through renewable sources by the year 2026 (including both solar and wind with the rest coming from natural gas). IBM’s statement regarding its environmental goals reads that it aims to “procure electricity from renewable sources for 20 percent of IBM's annual electricity consumption by 2020.”

This recent agreement, which includes developer Next Era Energy Resources Acquisitions, will provide six megawatts of solar energy to IBM’s Gunbarrel facility. It will be the largest solar array on any IBM campus worldwide, as well as the largest solar array in Boulder. “We’re excited about this project,” IBM’s Boulder Site Energy Coordinator Brody Wilson said, “and especially because this is a watershed moment that it can happen and it will be cash flow positive in the first year.”

Xcel’s announcement to offer Large Solar Rewards for the first time since 2012 came in July this year. The utility determines which companies to award projects to through a competitive bid process. In this instance, the request for proposals brought in 15 bids from seven different developers.

Kristin Gaspar, Xcel’s Solar Program Manager for Colorado, said IBM and Next Era’s winning the award ”was based on them offering the best price of dollars per megawatt hours. All of the other bids had a higher price tag.”

In the next two years, Xcel plans to extend two more offerings for Large Solar Rewards. In 2018, it will take bids for 10 megawatts and in 2019 it will be offering 14 megawatts.

Xcel’s Solar Energy Rewards Program began in 2006 in response to the passage of legislation dubbed the Colorado Renewable Energy Standard. It presently requires all utility companies to provide 30 percent of their annually generated energy from renewable sources by the year 2020.

IBM’s solar panel field will be on the northwest corner of its 500 acre parcel at 63rd and Monarch Road, an area that is surrounded by fences and trees on the west and north sides, and is currently a farmed hayfield. Plans are to have ground-mounted solar panels occupy the majority of the area. “One of the cool deals is that we will manage vegetation around the array with grazing sheep” Wilson said. From the Tom Watson Park parking lot, looking north, the array will be easily visible. Wilson said no trees will need to be removed to make way for the solar panels.

NextEra Energy Resources Acquisitions will develop, build and operate the solar array on IBM’s grounds, according to Wilson. “IBM’s skin in the game is the land being offered,” Wilson said. Wilson will oversee the project for IBM. His day-to-day tasks also revolve around helping IBM achieve its energy conservation goals. Everything from energy saving light fixtures to cooling data centers is under his auspices. But a solar development of this scale has been in the works for the entire three years he has been with IBM Boulder.

To get a sense of the magnitude of this project, six megawatts of solar power output per year offsets the carbon emissions of 84 homes’ electricity in one year, or 14.5 million miles driven by the average passenger car.

Wilson said for IBM to get this award it took a great deal of coordination and a huge land use commitment. “I can’t tell you how proud I am for getting this done. It’s wonderful for the community.”


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