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Silverton secures $100K for energy resiliency

Funding could mean local solar for the isolated mountain community
A community partnership based in Silverton has been awarded a $100,000 prize to increase the town’s energy resilience. (Durango Herald file)

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a Silverton-based partnership known as the Silverton GOLD – Goal of Less Dependency – Team a $100,000 prize to increase the town’s energy resiliency.

The remote community perennially loses power during large winter storms, which also tend to shut down mountain passes, isolating the town from other critical resources like Mercy Hospital.

The Silverton GOLD Team is a partnership with San Miguel Power Association, San Juan County, the Office of Emergency Management and Eco-Action partners.

Town Administrator Gloria Kaasch-Buerger said the team has four goals: Develop a resiliency plan for Silverton to prepare for potential disasters; join a regional climate action plan to transition to sustainable energy sources; research beneficial electrification to transition away from antiquated and energy-intensive infrastructure; and build a local microgrid to distribute power during outages.

Nationwide, 67 teams were awarded funding during the first phase of the project, which focuses on planning. Team GOLD will be in competition for the second phase of funding to actualize their plans, although team representatives say they have already applied for millions in building-related funding from other sources.

Certain events, such as a special election held during a storm in October 2021, highlight the need for this funding, Kaasch-Buerger said.

“The power went out for over 12 hours and we had temperatures that were below 10 degrees – it was very cold,” she said. “It's scary when that happens. We're cut off.”

Terry Schuyler, the key accounts executive with the San Miguel Power Association, is largely spearheading the last two goals. There are several steps to achieving the fourth goal, Schuyler said.

The team will first have to inventory the distribution system and seek opportunities for modernization, before looking for ways to install solar panels and battery banks behind the meters on critical infrastructure, such as the gas station, town and county governments and emergency services. The last step would include building a solar array and battery bank to power the entire town in the event of an outage.

Although planning remains in early stages, Schuyler said the team had toyed with the idea of constructing a solar array at the reclaimed site of the Gold King Mine.

The tentative idea is to design a system with a battery capacity that could serve the town for approximately 4 to 6 hours. The accompanying solar array would, on average, be able to charge those batteries fully each day.

“Four to six hours is chosen because that's historically, looking at our data going back years, the amount of time it takes for our crews to actually reestablish service, even in inclement weather,” Schuyler said.

A bigger battery bank would allow the town to distribute solar energy at night, cutting energy costs and relying less on Tri-State Generation and Transmitting Association.

“The town benefits from the resiliency, benefits from access to local solar energy and of course, we're going to feed the Renewable Energy Credit from that array into our pool for our Totally Green program,” Schuyler said.


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