Eagle County solar farm proposal in hurry-up mode | VailDaily.com

Eagle County solar farm proposal in hurry-up mode

Derek Franz

EAGLE COUNTY — A proposal for a solar farm on 5 acres east of Eagle along Interstate 70 will likely come before Eagle County commissioners within the next two months.

Arion Energy of Boulder is leasing the parcel from Red Mountain Land and hopes to start building the array by the end of December to qualify for a federal production tax credit.

“There is a time crunch for it,” said Eric Eves, operations manager for Red Mountain Land. “There are some incentives that are set to expire.”

The proposed array is 359 kilowatts and would be the first solar farm in the Eagle River valley. The site is about 2.5 miles east of the Eagle Interstate 70 on-off ramps and near land owned by Eagle County School District.

“It would be visible from I-70 and would show our community supports renewable energy,” Eves said.

The special use permit is in the referral process until Oct. 1 and a public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 16.

“It is tentatively scheduled for a Nov. 19 commissioner hearing,” said Eagle County Planner Scot Hunn.

Arion representatives were unable to comment by press time but Eves said it would be a net-gain solar farm and that Arion is in talks with Holy Cross Energy for a power-purchase agreement.

“We would like to do business with them if the proposal is approved,” said Chris Hildred, a special projects engineer with Holy Cross.

Hildred said there are currently three proposals with Holy Cross for solar arrays of 300 kilowatts or more — two in Eagle County and one in the Roaring Fork Valley. A Denver company is behind the Roaring Fork proposal and Clean Energy Collective has a plan approved for a site to be built in southern Eagle County near El Jebel.

“We haven’t built that yet because we’re still selling the last panels at our solar farm at the Garfield County Airport,” said Clean Energy Collective President Paul Spencer.

Selling solar

Clean Energy Collective’s business model is apparently different from Arion’s in that it sells shares of its arrays to the public. Clean Energy Collective sells the solar panels to shareholders, whose energy bills are credited for the percentage of the array they own.

Spencer said once the Garfield County Airport array is sold out, the company will consider building the next array near El Jebel.

“We would like to find a site in the Eagle/Vail Valley, but the land use codes are really stringent there,” he said. “The last proposal took 14 months to get approved.”

Spencer said it technically doesn’t matter where an array is because people can buy shares from anywhere and have it offset their electricity bills.

“We have shareholders in Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties, but just from a customer standpoint, it’s nice to have something in your community that you can see,” Spencer said.

Is reflectivity a problem?

County commissioners have made it clear they support renewable energy projects like solar. In the last year, they have encouraged staff to examine several possible areas for solar panels, especially when the roof of the Eagle County Building needed to be redone.

“Solar is something the county has supported,” said Adam Palmer, county Environmental Policy Planner. “I think it’s an interesting question because there is broad support for it but where are the most appropriate places?”

Reflectivity is one of the main concerns associated with solar panels.

“Solar panels don’t reflect as much as people think they do,” Eves said. “If they reflected so much they wouldn’t be doing their job because reflected light is energy that’s not captured.”

That is basically true, Palmer said. When considering solar panels for the Eagle County Building and the old landfill, the county did a study on reflectivity.

“It greatly depends on the angle and properties of the panel in question, but most of the panels today have an anti-reflective film and have lower reflectivity than windows,” Palmer said.

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