Getting Ready to Go 100% Solar – A Comprehensive Update

Crestone Mountain Zen Center is becoming a regional example for the globally necessary transition to a Zero Carbon lifestyle. We are currently working on four interrelated areas.

  1. Fundraising and Financing
  2. Fuel Conversion from Combustion to Solar Electric
  3. Energy Efficiency
  4. Electric Cars and Carbon Offsets

When it comes to fundraising, we just celebrated a big success with our recent Fuel Conversion Plan campaign. Thank you donors! For those, who are inspired to give now, the campaign is still live!

We encourage all Dharma Sangha supporters to stay engaged. If you have funding or financing ideas, we want to have a conversation with you. We are looking for government grant opportunities, warm introductions to foundations, low or zero interest private loans, etc.

If CMZC can succeed in financing its fuel conversion and solar array from grants and donations, it will eliminate $20,000 in annual energy costs for 25-30 years, the life span of the solar panels. This assumes stable energy prices, which is unlikely. After 30 years, panels are estimated to still produce at 75% of their original capacity. Even if 25% of the savings need to be invested in new panels or, even better, in efficiency measures to shrink the campus energy demand into diminishing panel production, this would provide approx. $450,000 in savings over 30 years to maintain and develop the campus, making CMZC much more sustainable for decades to come.

Please help us achieve this goal – for ourselves and the biosphere of all sentient beings!

 

Fundraising and Financing

In three consecutive campaigns, CMZC has raised significant funds from Dharma Sangha members and supporters. We are impressed with your commitment and growing support for this vision!

  • 2016 Energy Audit: $9,000
  • 2017/18 Energy Efficiency: $28,500
  • 2018/19 Fuel Conversion Plan: $42,600

In addition, CMZC continuously generates support through its voluntary 3% Zero Carbon Fee on all student and guest rates. Please also consider supporting us through AmazonSmile.

Once the Fuel Conversion Plan is finalized, we will generate a cost estimate for the entire project. This will be the basis for future fundraising and financing.

Nonprofits like CMZC, due to their tax-exempt status, typically cannot take advantage of governmental tax credits for solar. However, there is a partial workaround. We are in communication with CollectiveSun, a financing company dedicated to help nonprofits fund solar projects with a 15% cost reduction.

 

Fuel Conversion from Combustion to Solar Electric

CMZC has 12 buildings with a hodgepodge of heating and domestic hot water systems fueled by three energy sources: propane, electric, and wood. We are partnering with Resource Engineering Group (REG) from Crested Butte to finalize a comprehensive fuel conversion plan that provides a conceptual design for switching all propane-fueled systems to electric and then building a solar array to provide all of the required electric energy with an on-site, net-metered solar array. It also makes detailed suggestions for energy efficiency measures for all 12 buildings.

In this plan, five wood-burning stoves will be retained. CMZC is implementing a local wood harvesting strategy that integrates annual heating needs with incremental forest mitigation for forest health and fire control purposes. Local wood is considered a low to zero carbon heat source.

Negotiating a permit with the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Coop, our local utility, to build our envisioned 100-125kw solar array has been challenging. Their current policies would require us to construct multiple 25kw units, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the project budget. Now an exemption to build one array with one meter and a single feed to the grid is verbally confirmed. This is the break-through we needed! Once we have written confirmation, we can finalize the parts of the plan that depend on this exemption: 1) necessary upgrades to our electrical infrastructure and 2) the location and connectivity of the solar array.

 

Energy Efficiency

In early 2018, based on an energy audit, we reduced our energy consumption by an estimated 15%. We installed LED light bulbs, window covering, programmable thermostats, and insulation in the leakiest building on campus, the Studio dormitory. This effort continues in 2019. We are currently in the process of adding much needed floor and roof insulation for six guest rooms and one residential cabin. As funds are available, we will begin to replace single pane windows.

Energy efficiency is an ongoing effort that will continue even after the solar array is built.

 

Electric Cars and Carbon Offsets

Reduce what you can, offset what you can’t” – this is the principle championed by Carbonfund.org, CMZC’s partner for carbon offsets. This is the only way carbon offsets make sense.

CMZC is currently focused on reducing its direct emissions from heating and domestic hot water production. However, our Zero Carbon Vision includes an examination and eventual elimination or offsetting of indirect emissions. Primarily, this is travel to and from the Center and the carbon footprint generated by the products and services we consume.

We have begun to look into switching CMZC to electric cars and installing a charging station on campus. In the meantime, we are offsetting CMZC’s car travel and our teachers’ air travel through a tropical reforestation program.