Sprawling solar plant on tap for San Luis Valley
SAGUACHE — The San Luis Valley, already home to three solar power plants, could soon become the site of a sprawling 6,200-acre solar complex — a facility that would generate three times as much electricity as the other plants combined.
While the project could bring needed jobs to one of Colorado’s poorest counties, it has triggered worries about its potential environmental impacts.
Still, the Saguache County Board of Commissioners on Monday voted 2-1 to issue a permit for the project — 30 miles north of Alamosa and 10 miles west of Great Sand Dunes National Park.
The project by Santa Monica, Calif.- based SolarReserve will use “concentrating solar” technology rather than solar
Solar panels directly turn sunlight into electricity. Concentrating solar uses mirrors to focus the sun’s heat into a molten salt reservoir in a tower that can then be used to make steam to turn a turbine.
“We have the capacity to store the heat so as to be able to make electricity around the clock,” said Kevin Smith, SolarReserve’s chief executive, in an interview.
When complete, the site will include two 656-foot-tall towers visible from up to 25 miles away. Each tower will be located on a 12-acre “power island” and surrounded by 1,700 acres of heliostats, or sun-tracking mirrors.
The rest of the land will be a buffer zone around the project.
“We got a traffic-stopper,” said board Chairman Mike
He said he hopes the site will become a tourist attraction complete with a visitor center and shuttle tours.
SolarReserve estimates the project will create several hundred construction jobs and 50 full-time positions once the facility is operating, offering a boost to a county that recorded 11.5 percent unemployment as of January.
Opponents have said the project, on property that is now largely commercial farmland, will destroy the area’s pristine views and endanger
wildlife, particularly the famous sandhill cranes and other birds that fly overhead.
A bird- and bat-mortality study conducted at a demonstration site in California found most deaths were caused by wildlife hitting the tower or heliostats, according to a report created by Saguache County staff and a consultant hired by the county.
That site averaged two bird deaths per week, but the number is expected to be higher for the Colorado project because it is larger.
Ron Briggs lives in nearby Moffat but owns 40 acres adjacent to the site. He bought the land in 1997, largely because it is secluded and so quiet that on days when it’s not windy, he can hear people talking 2 miles away.
“Up to this day, if I’d won the lottery,
I was going to build my dream house there,” Briggs said. “I thought it was paradise.”
Instead, Briggs said he expects to work with the county to swap his land for other county-owned property.
To move forward with the project, SolarReserve’s Smith said the company must find a buyer for the maximum 200 megawatts of power the complex would generate.
“The permit was one step in the process,” Smith said. “Now we have to secure a power-purchase agreement.”
SolarReserve has secured transmission capacity for 100 megawatts on the Xcel Energy power line over Poncha Pass, Smith said.
The project will be built in two 100-megawatt phases. SolarReserve still has to fund another 100 megawatts of transmission capacity.
for buyers, Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, has said it does not need any more renewable energy to meet the state requirement that 30 percent of its power come from renewable sources.
Other utilities are also meeting or near meeting their state requirements.
“Colorado has been a leader, and while there is a little lull right now in renewables, we hope the state will continue to use innovative technology to solve the energy problem,” Smith said.
SolarReserve has built a demonstration plant in California and is building its first commercial plant in Nevada.
Saguache County estimates the plant will bring in about $400,000 per year in property-tax revenue. SolarReserve also agreed to pay $200,000 to help with
job training and to provide $375,000 for construction and operation of a visitor center and shuttle service and to promote other San Luis Valley tourist attractions.
Sara Burnett: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-954-1661
Mark Jaffe: email@example.com or 303-954-1912
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Originally posted 2012-03-27 03:36:44. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
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