During the six-hour public hearing, the commissioners listened to opinions from Russell Planning and Engineering Senior Planner Nancy Lauro, the county’s engineering consultant; SolarReserve officers and the public through both a question and answer session and a comment session.
The commissioners now have up to 60 days, or 120 days with SolarReserve’s blessing, to approve or deny the permit.
The commissioners are drafting a list containing at least 32 additional conditions to the proposed development agreement.
Topics presented at the public hearing included, but were not limited to, wildlife, transmission, jobs, tax revenues, reclamation, socioeconomic impacts, water use, visual impacts and handling of hazardous materials.
The commissioners now must prioritize the public’s diverse opinions on the proposed 200-megawatt solar power-generating 100 percent clean energy facility north of Center that consists of two 100 MW 656-foot tall solar thermal power generating units based on concentrating solar-thermal power technology.
Center Town Board Member Mo Jones welcomed SolarReserve’s job offers on Thursday. “We need some change,” Jones said. “This is a win-win thing. The Town of Center is very much in support of this. I totally support this 150 percent.” Center residents stood behind their representative.
“I want to totally speak to supporting this issue,” said Michael Garcia, a lifetime Center resident. “My sons have left because there are no jobs. It is time that we take a part of the future and put it in our backyard. Let’s start getting positive about our future.”
Michael Lobato, who’s family has been in the Valley for many generations, agreed. “I am extremely in favor of this project,” Lobato said. “I understand the future of this country and that is our youth. I encourage you (the commissioners) to make the right choice and vote in favor of this project.”
Villa Grove resident Larry Smith reiterated the opportunity for an improved economy. “Quality of life starts with a good job,” Smith said. “We have to put a stop to this anti everything. This is where we need to be going. We are blessed with sun here and when are we going to do something for our country.”
SolarReserve Chief Executive Officer Kevin Smith said later in the hearing that SolarReserve would be willing to entertain a program to assist with decreasing property values.
Kathy Atkins asked SolarReserve about water rights. SolarReserve Project Manager Adam Green said that the project would secure senior surface water rights from a private entity through water court.
He explained that the water would be pumped through an underground pipe during irrigation season and recharge the aquifer onsite.
The project will take 38 circles out of production, reducing water consumption from 6,300 acre feet per year to 150 acre feet per year.
“Whatever they are, we are going to pay them,” Green said a few times throughout the afternoon.
A state tax model shows that the facility will pay $425,000 a year per tower, he said. Today the land is worth $30,000.
Taxes will not be enforced until the solar energy begins to generate revenues.
“Don’t let corporate America take what it is away from us,” commented Jim Warner, Saguache County.
Ceal Smith, Crestone, asked SolarReserve about energy production in high winds.
SolarReserve Chief Technical Officer Bill Gould said that part of the system has a 30 mph threshold and that the 10 to 12 hours of storage balances the energy production down time.
Kevin Smith explained that the heliostats are designed to handle 100 plus mph winds.
“I think it is good for the world at large,” commented Dave Blue, Saguache County. “This technology has cost a lot of federal dollars and it should be used.”
Chris Canaly, of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, said that the council supports concentrated solar power, but not in tower form.
Catherine Van Note asked SolarReserve where the energy would travel.
Smith said that the electricity would be absorbed into the area through the high voltage utility line.
“I believe the local distribution of solar energy is the only way to go,” said Sharon Ray, Saguache, in opposition to the project. “We need to be in charge of our own energy.”
Ceal Smith said that she believed the wildlife research survey “grossly underestimates cranes and birds.” She added that she felt the cranes’ bi-annual behavioral patterns were not properly represented.
She recommended SolarReserve conduct another study. “We will continue to work with the fish and wildlife service,” Green said. “Will we redo the study? No.”
He added that SolarReserve is not interesting in interfering with migratory bird laws. “We are a solar energy company,” Green said. “We care about the environment.”
The commissioners will discuss the project at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 7 during their regularly scheduled meeting at the Saguache County Courthouse.