“We wanted to brief the BOCC this morning because we are looking at some sites here in Ouray County,” Bryan Hammond, the regional operations manager for SunEdison said during Monday’s “Call to the Public” portion of the meeting. He said that he was working with County Planner Mark Castrodale about some possible sites and they are taking his guidance on how to proceed.
At their April meeting SMPA’s Board of Directors approved a two megawatt solar photovoltaic project with SunEdison – a U.S. based solar power producer that finances, constructs, and operates solar plants across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The board approval identifies Norwood as a preferred site for the solar facility; however, alternative sites near Paradox and Ridgway are still being analyzed.
“Site selection for the solar farm is ongoing,” SMPA General Manager Kevin Ritter said in a statement issued to The Watch last week. “We have excellent solar resources throughout our service territory, and although the board identified Norwood as a preferred location, we are still evaluating alternative sites and properties. We’re taking everything into consideration. Land use, price, visibility, constructability, interconnection and community concerns, among others, will all influence the site selection.”
Hammond said the 2MW solar farm would be approximately 16 acres in size and that it would be the largest distributed solar generation for a co-op in the U.S.
“What that means is there will be a lot of co-ops coming in to take a look at it,” Hammond said. “We are hoping to get it done earlier this year and we need to select our site quickly.”
The solar plant will account for approximately 2 percent of SMPA’s annual load – roughly enough electricity to power 408 households annually. SunEdison will own and operate the plant, and SMPA will contract to purchase the electricity output from the facility for a 25-year period. During this period, the facility will produce enough solar electricity to offset over 140 million pounds of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to the amount of CO2 produced by 13,000 cars on the road.
The cost to purchase the solar energy will be absorbed into SMPA’s operating expenses and will not drive a change in the current rates.
If all goes as scheduled, it could be powering SMPA homes and businesses in late 2010 or early 2011. According to a SunEdison representative from the SunEdison Denver office, the company asserts that upon completion of construction, one to three operations and maintenance jobs will be created for the 25-year term of the contract. The multi-million dollar installation will bring significant additional tax revenues to the community where it resides, in addition to the jobs created.
All three commissioners expressed excitement over the proposed project but Commissioner Keith Meinert cautioned that the project, if it were to reside in Ouray County, will have to be approved through all the county’s development processes.
“Visual impact is going to be one of the crucial hurdles you will have to overcome,” Meinert said. “We will have to balance the visual impact with the benefits.”
Hammond said in other similar solar farm projects, the company has planted trees, fencing and built berms to mitigate the visual impact.
Residents Voice More Concerns Over Cell Tower
A handful of Ouray County residents attended Monday’s meeting of the Ouray County Commissioners to tell the board that they are unhappy with their April 2009 approval of a Verizon communication tower on Log Hill Mesa. They also voiced concerns that equipment atop the 80-foot tower will not enhance emergency communications in the valley as much as needed.
Ouray resident Dennis Michaud, who said he has had a lengthy career in the communications industry, gave the commissioners a report on some technical specifics of the tower. He said he is worried that the tower’s current design will not successfully enhance emergency communications.
“Like most people in the county, I believe our first responders need and deserve the best communications capabilities we can provide,” Michaud told the commissioners during the “Call to the Public” portion of the meeting. “Actions are being taken with the goal of improving upon those capabilities and I fully support that goal. However, I don’t believe we are on a path to success in this regard.”
In short, Michaud told the commissioners that the proposed site already has unknown sources of radio interference; the proposed solution of an 80-foot height is not guaranteed to work; there is no spectrum management plan in place; and there is no technical or financial analysis of alternative solutions.
Commissioner Heidi Albritton told Michaud that a number of his concerns were already addressed during testimony at the tower’s approval and the variance approval.
“I think there is more in our record that would address a number of points you brought up,” Albritton said. “We did hear testimony evidence that addressed some of your points.”
County Attorney Mary Deganhart reminded everyone in attendance that the board has no further decision to make. The tower’s Special Use Permit and its variances were approved in a public forum and public comments were taken from both sides of the issue. In the lawsuits against the county, Deganhart reminded everyone that Judge J. Steven Patrick “confirmed that there were no errors made by the board” in those approvals.
Albritton did say that it would be reasonable to schedule a meeting to discuss the current tower’s configuration to help clear up any concerns the public may have about its technical aspects.
“It is reasonable to lay it out there on what the plan is and what it is going to accomplish,” Albritton said. “We can’t change the decision but we can communicate information.”
The commissioners did not set a date for that discussion but Commissioner Keith Meinert suggested that Michaud contact those who are engineering the tower before that meeting to get an idea of the technical design.