A 1,900-acre facility would generate 155 megawatts of energy each year in addition to battery storage capacity
Bay Area-based Primergy Solar has submitted its application to the La Plata County Planning Board for a massive solar project south of Hesperus.
Neighbors at the proposed site in southwest La Plata County, who felt the project’s initial announcement was unclear, have awaited the application with bated breath.
The application — a collection of documents over 1,000 pages long — outlines the specific proposal for the 1,900-acre project, which, if built, is projected to add 155 megawatts of solar power per year in addition to battery storage capacity for another 155 generate MW.
The facility would be located on three lots – 320 acres at the north end of the facility managed by Fort Lewis College and the remaining 1,600 acres divided roughly evenly between land leased from the Isgar Trust and land leased by Three Sisters LLC was purchased, owned by the Wertz family.
The proposal includes several much-anticipated documents, including a detailed economic impact assessment, wildlife impact details, a fire mitigation plan and a closure plan.
This is now being examined by the planning office of the district. The county has exercised its power to extend the review period in light of the upcoming holiday and is expected to decide by Jan. 4 whether Primergy has submitted all required documentation. The department will hire a consultant specializing in solar projects to assist in the review process.
Christy Kost, the county’s natural resource planner, said the office will also hold at least one (and likely more) neighborhood meetings under the 1041 rules passed in 2019. These rules apply to projects that are likely to have more than just impact in close proximity to a proposed project, and this will be the first project the county has reviewed under them.
The filing includes a 38-page economic impact assessment prepared by Triple Point Strategic Consulting, a Crested Butte-based firm. The study examines the direct and indirect economic impacts of the project, including the impact of spending in the region during the construction and operational phases of the installation.
The evaluation determined that the construction phase would generate $559,000 in direct, indirect and induced tax revenues to the county, as well as $579,000 to cities and towns and $1.2 million to special purpose districts (such as fire and school districts). Most of the taxpayers’ money — another $10.3 million — would go to the state and federal government.
The document does not address the question of whether the jobs considered would go to local workers. Kathryn Meyer, project manager at Primergy, had previously said the company would try to hire locally, but that skilled labor might not be available in the area.
Construction is expected to require a total of 184 installation, maintenance, repair and construction workers, who would be paid a total of $10.8 million. However, Primergy could not confirm whether these jobs are expected to be local.
In a statement emailed to The Durango HeraldMeyer said the inputs to the model used were “at the discretion of those conducting the analysis.”
The consulting firm did not respond to a request for comment.
The estimated total tax impact of operations for the life of the project in the district, subdistrict and special districts is US$32.1 million. The state and federal governments are expected to receive $15.9 and $20.3 million, respectively.
Endangered habitat for moose?
Concerned neighbors brought up the local moose herd as a potential problem when Primergy announced its plans. The application sheds light on what the project could do to mitigate its impact on wildlife.
A significant portion of the proposed site is on land designated by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as a winter roaming area for mule deer and elk, as well as land with a resident elk population.
Based on advice from CPW after a site visit, Primergy changed plans to pull a 1,000 foot wide wildlife corridor through the project. Instead of being surrounded by 6-foot-high barbed wire fences every 1,900 acres, it is surrounded by 8-foot-high deer fences. The company also eliminated any dead ends in the project, instead creating two separate sections of infrastructure separated by the game corridor. The company also relocated some of its panels to previously disturbed land to minimize the destructive impact.
Primergy says the corridor “will provide an exciting opportunity for study and education of big game movements in the vicinity of power facilities” and believes the corridor is the first of its kind in the state.
Gary Skiba, wildlife program manager for the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance, said in an email to the Durango Herald there was “no question” that the corridor would be used.
Skiba also stressed that it was difficult to quantify the impact.
“To the extent that moose (and presumably deer) are now using the entire area as a migratory route, part of it will be blocked and unusable,” Skiba wrote. “There are undoubtedly effects that depend on vegetation and topography; Again, I am not aware of any research that quantifies these effects.”
Skiba also suggested that if Primergy touts the corridor as an “exciting research opportunity,” the company could be asked to fund this research.
fire safety plans
The STOP Hesperus Solar group, which is opposed to the project, has highlighted the potential fire hazard as one of their major concerns about the facility. Primergy’s application includes a 10-page firefighting plan that includes limiting flammable and combustible materials on the premises and providing adequate fire extinguishers.
Primergy also said it would provide facility-specific training for the Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District, who would be the first to respond to any incident. Members of the group who opposed the project expressed doubts that the largely volunteer department has the resources to adequately respond to a fire at the facility.
When asked if those concerns were valid, Fire Chief John Lee simply said “no.”
More details on specific fire protection plans will be provided after Primergy has applied for planning permission.
For now, Meyer said, “A purpose-built fire suppression system will be built into the array and the site will be monitored 24/7 from our operations center during construction and operations.”
The plan also called for the battery system to include sensors that would automatically shut down in the event of a fire.
A look 45 years into the future
Given the scale and 45 year lifespan of the project, the decommissioning plan included in the application is likely to be subject to close scrutiny. The plan broadly states that all materials – including solar panels, batteries and foundations – will be removed by an approved facility and recycled externally.
Primergy will also estimate the closing price and provide the county with a security of that amount.
Those objecting to the project have expressed concerns that the site, some of which is currently used for farming, could be ruined forever. Primergy insists that is not the case.
“Our obligations to our landowners and county code requirements require that we maintain or improve soil, water and habitat quality,” Meyer said. “Once the work is complete, the property can be put back into productive agricultural use if the landowner so desires.”
She also said that under a contractual agreement, the country would be restored to “the same or better condition” within 12 months of the shutdown.
Along the road
It could take up to eight months for the proposal to make it to the Board of County Commissioners.
“Community interest and input is extremely important to any type of major review process,” Kost said. “Your input is impactful, and the county listens to the community’s opinion, and the board honors the community’s opinion when it has one.” decision.”
Kost also said the planning office and contracted consultancy would review Primergy’s assessments.
“No stone will be left unturned on this project,” Kost said. “This is our first 1041 project and is being reviewed in detail. Things that affect our economy to this extent, things that can bring in so much revenue, have a big impact on the community, whether it’s temporary or long-term.”
If approved, Primergy hopes to have the facility online by the end of 2025.