Commissioners eye federal funds for solar projects amid YVEA transition

Routt County Commissioners met with Yampa Valley Electric Association to talk about the transition away from Xcel Energy onto June 5. During the meeting commissioners looked to ensure that Routt County was using any possible funding opportunities available for large scale solar projects.
McKinstry/Courtesy photo

Looking to ensure that Routt County takes full advantage of funding opportunities available to complete potential large-scale solar projects, county commissioners expressed concern while meeting with Yampa Valley Electric Association officials Monday.

Under its newly announced contract with Guzman Energy, Yampa Valley Electric Association is on track to become 84% carbon-free by 2030. The new partnership includes the opportunity to meet an additional 15% of its load with power from YVEA’s contracted local renewable energy projects.

Yampa Valley Electric has begun and will continue to meet with stakeholders to notify them that it is developing a program to determine the best way to utilize the chance to generate new local renewable energy projects. Stakeholders can pitch project ideas that would contribute to this, and YVEA clarified that the beginning of these projects, and actual construction, is still more than five years down the road.

This has sparked a discussion about what direction Routt County is going with renewable energy, and what opportunities there may be for large-scale solar energy projects. 

While listening to the updates YVEA offered on the electric cooperative’s recent transition, Commissioner Sonja Macys raised concern that Routt County would be and is missing out on opportunities to use federal funding for large-scale solar projects.

The Climate Action Plan adopted by the county specifically states Routt will carry out the plan by working to “reduce barriers of deployment of renewables (solar, wind, other) through review and modification of codes and policies and tracking implementation of state and federal support mechanisms.” 

“We do know that there’s a whole lot of federal money out there right now for infrastructure investment in very large-scale projects, and we are missing out,” Macys said to the YVEA representatives. “We are leaving that federal money on the table, we are letting everybody else in this nation have it because we are not focused on the bigger picture here.”

The most recent federal grants rolled out from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced in mid-May, created $11 billion in funds to help bring affordable clean energy to rural communities nationwide.

The DOA has said this is the largest single federal investment in rural electrification since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act in 1936 as part of the New Deal.

Applications to access this funding for the project will not open until July, but it has community members wondering if YVEA will utilize it.

In addition to Macys raising the question, Paul Bony, energy and transportation director of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, also queried YVEA officials on the matter at a previous special meeting with YVEA and county commissioners on May 22. 

“We are aware of the funding and we are looking at what opportunities are out there that may exist,” Steve Johnson, CEO of YVEA, told the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Tuesday. “A lot of that funding might have some unintended consequences tied to it, it is federal funding.”

At the Monday meeting, Macys continued to explain the value in moving as quickly as possible in getting these large-scale solar projects started by citing the value it has brought to counties across the country. 

“We know that in talking to other counties and seeing what they’re doing, we know that counties are either receiving regular sort of annuity-type revenues off of large-scale solar projects, or they’re seeing their tax base increase significantly,” Macys said. 

She noted that the county’s Climate Action Plan has a greenhouse gas emissions goal that needs to be met and that getting some large-scale solar projects going would be a smart big-picture move.

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