SOLAR-POWERED MOUNTAIN RETREATS
Perhaps the only such facility of its kind, the Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center (RMERC) in Ward, Colorado is a low-cost home for spiritual practice and meditative retreats born out from contemplative river and backpacking trips led by co-founders Johann Robbins, David Loy, and Peter Williams. With stunning views of the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide, this historic property sits on 180 acres of private woodlands, rivers, and meadows bordered by the Arapahoe National Forest and permanently preserved thanks to a conservation easement stipulated in the will of the land’s previous owner—famed American botanist Hazel Schmoll.
Given the rustic setting, the center attracts individuals from around the world who seek a supportive place for meditation, workshops, retreats, and the exploration of a relatively new concept of Ecodharma—the intersection of dharma and the ecological crises. Loy writes, “[The Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center] brings Buddhism and Dharma back into the natural world where they originated and fosters the clarity and compassion needed to better address the ecological crisis and its related social justice issues. We call this Ecodharma.”
Unfortunately, the center’s remoteness creates significant energy challenges with frequent blackouts experienced throughout the year. When RMERC approached Independent Power Systems in the fall of 2018 for solutions that would provide more reliable and inexpensive electricity and would also support the center’s ecological and sustainable values, the need for a creative solution was evident. However, their status as a nonprofit makes it difficult to secure financing such as the Federal Investment Tax Credit for energy projects such as adding solar panels or energy storage devices to their facility.
Fortunately, a clever solution was found that allowed the nonprofit to go solar and install 14 SunPower® X-Series Commercial Solar Panels atop the main retreat lodge. One of the board members was able to form an LLC and fund the project directly. The LLC owns the 5.04 kW solar array and RMERC pays a lower monthly rate than on their current electric bill through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) over the next 15 years. Once the investing board member recoups the initial cost of the system, ownership will transfer to Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center who will receive free renewable electricity for the remainder of the system’s working life. It is estimated that the system will produce approximately 8,712 kWh in the first year of operation, saving RMERC roughly $871.20 in energy costs.