Big Pivots: Tip of a Yampa Valley iceberg of solar?
The coal era of Colorado’s Yampa Valley has already started winding down. To what extent will solar take its place?
The Steamboat Pilot & Today reported a ground-breaking in May for a four-megawatt solar project in Craig, the largest yet in the Yampa Valley. It will cover 20 acres.
That volume of generation is best characterized as a solar “garden.” Mike Kruger, the chief executive of Colorado Solar and Storage, told the paper that utility-scale solar is defined as 20 megawatts or larger, which needs about 100 acres. Colorado already has more than a dozen utility-scale solar projects, mostly along the Front Range.
Kruger noted that the existing transmission lines and other infrastructure in the Yampa Valley, because of the existing two coal-burning units at Hayden and the three units at Craig, make it attractive as a place for developing renewable generation.
“You would not need to build a lot of additional transmission lines,” he said.
Solar is on a major upswing in Colorado. Xcel Energy, operator of the two Hayden units and partial owner of two units at Craig, invited solar developers to submit bids. It received more than 1,000 offers for all types of projects across Colorado by the March 1 deadline.
Some of those bids may have been for solar projects in Routt County, where Steamboat Springs is located. Alan Goldich, a county planner, told the Pilot & Today that the planning staff heard from at least several potential developers wanting to understand Routt County regulations. Their inquiries caused the planning officials to launch an update of regulations that better address utility-scale solar proposals.
Utility-scale solar is allowed in the agricultural and forestry zoned areas in Routt County, which represents about 98% of county zoning. Those standards, however, do not adequately address the impacts to wildlife, roads, water quality, maintenance of revegetation, and displacement of current uses.
“Routt County got a lot of increased interest with some conversations with some developers,” Goldich told the Pilot & Today’s Suzie Romig. “The closing of the Craig and Hayden stations will open up a lot of capacity on the high-transmission lines.”
Routt County expects to get its revised regulations across the finish line by this summer.
In neighboring Moffat County, planner Candace Miller also reports an uptick in interest, although no proposals yet. “I have not received any applications nor approved any permits,” for renewable generation, she said. A one-person staff, she also plans to look into revising regulations to govern utility-scale solar, too.
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at email@example.com or 720-415-9308.
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