Don't let the chilly late-fall air and shorter days fool you: Hundreds of solar panels located off Interstate 70 at the Cameo exit are working just fine.
Come January, the 12-acre solar garden will go online and fully offset electricity costs for Palisade, saving the town an estimated $1.2 million over the next 20 years.
The panels also will save the city of Grand Junction $600,000 over the next two decades. The 2-megawatt solar garden will create renewable energy to power 75 percent of the electricity needs at the Grand Junction police station and add to the city's existing solar credit portfolio to completely power the water plant at 26¼ Road with renewable energy.
The cities of Rifle and Fruita, Mesa County Libraries, the Grand Junction Housing Authority, the Museums of Western Colorado and other subscribers also will benefit from the Grand Valley's latest solar garden, thanks to Xcel Energy's Solar Rewards Community Program.
The partnership with Denver-based solar garden developer Oak Leaf Energy Partners benefits Palisade even further. The company makes annual lease payments on the town's land.
"There's no investment on our part," Palisade town Treasurer Joe Vlach said. "It's worth it."
Mike McCabe, a partner with Oak Leaf Energy Partners, offered Grand Valley officials a tour of the solar farm on Monday afternoon.
He said the solar garden site in a low area near the new Cameo Shooting and Education Complex is situated in a good location being visible from the interstate but difficult to access and far away from residential development.
"It's a natural fit," he said. "It's kind of located on an island."
The Grand and San Luis valleys are considered the sunniest parts of the state and collect the most solar energy, he said.
The sun-tracking panels are easy to maintain and automatically shut down only in the event of wind blowing more than 40 mph.
The roughly $4 million project has been in the planning stages for about two years, but only took a few months to install, McCabe said.
Oak Leaf is seeking more sites to add the solar gardens after recently being approved by Xcel to add projects totaling 34 megawatts in 2-megawatt solar gardens, McCabe said.