Even before Matt Wassam’s great-great-great grandfather settled on the plains and valleys of Colorado in the 1800s, ranchers and farmers were using solar power.
Not photovoltaic solar panels. That would come later.
“There is a reason my great grandpa’s old dairy barn and house, still standing near Palmer Lake, has windows all along the south facing side,” said Wassam, general manager for SPG Solar in the Rocky Mountain region. “They used the sun to grow and dry crops, heat the barn and stuff like that. Operating a business that is sustainable for generations is second nature to people of the soil, from the small farmer to the big agri-business.”
Today, ranchers and growers are taking that to a new level.
“In agriculture we’ve been using solar panels to operate irrigation pumps, power miles of electric fence and charge batteries for over a decade,” said Wassam. “Now, some farmers are figuring out they can use solar for 100% of their power—and still reduce their energy bills.”
Solar is not just for agriculture any more. In downtown Steamboat Springs, a statue reminds visitors of the three legs of the Colorado economy: farming, tourism and mining.
Aspen Ski Co. is a national leader in renewable energy, not just for resorts, but for all businesses.
And the good is about to get better.
Governor Bill Ritter recently signed a bill that steps up plans to require Colorado utilities to get 30% of their power from solar and other renewables within 10 years.
That got the full attention of Wassam and other executives of SPG Solar, one of the largest solar companies in America. After a pitch from state economic development officials, SPG Solar recently opened an office in Denver and is looking to future expansion in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs as well.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on Colorado because for years businesses from Colorado have been going to our Website and asking us to design and install their solar systems,” said Wassam. “Now that federal, state and utility incentives are so great, we decided we needed to be here.”
SPG Solar is competing for photovoltaic solar installations at commercial and industrial sites throughout Colorado. “Basically, if you have a good-sized rooftop, a field, ranch, a school, a water treatment facility, a farm—or an industrial park, you are losing money if you do not use solar,” Wassam said. “Funny enough, our biggest challenge is convincing people that there is no catch. It looks too good to be true, but it is.”
Dave Corkill figured it out a few years ago. Corkill hired SPG Solar to install the world’s largest solar-panel system on top of a movie theater. He told Film Magazine International that going “solar is a clear-cut choice with economic and marketing benefits. If they knew all that we know, everybody would do it.”
“If you do your homework, solar systems pay off,” Corkill told the magazine.
“That’s what we do,” Wassam said. “The homework.”
“Everyone that has a business today that thinks they’re going to have a business in the next five years should be putting a solar system on the roof of their building,” Corkill said. “At the end of the day, if you have the knowledge of what the overall picture is, including the tax incentives, it makes too much sense.”
Wassam is a sixth-generation native of Colorado. “We not only like the opportunities here, we also like the wealth of talented and educated people in Colorado. The ski and tourism industry have been national leaders in solar and renewable power for years. So not only do we have sophisticated users, we also have a great workforce already here.”