SolarReserve negotiates concentrated solar thermal power project

SolarReserve might have a Saguache County 1041 permit application decision Monday afternoon. To conclude their regular board meeting yesterday, the Saguache County Commissioners decided they might be ready to ask for an extension or decide on the company’s concentrated solar power tower project permit application and development agreement at 1:30 p.m., March 26, during a meeting scheduled solely to discuss the matter.

If the commissioners do not ask for an extension or deny or approve the permit application, they are forced to make a final decision or ask SolarReserve for additional time at 2 p.m. on April 2, the final day of the deliberation period.

SolarReserve can deny an extension request and abandon the project. “I’m glad that the commissioners are continuing to make process,” said SolarReserve Project Manager Adam Green in a telephone interview. “I hope they know what enormous benefits this project could bring to Saguache County and the San Luis Valley.”

The company has again readjusted its hopes of reaching a compromise with its response to the commissioners’ Economic Development and Reclamation Bond counter-proposal.

The commissioners asked the company to increase its starting contribution to the proposed Visitor Information Center (VIC) from $100,000 to $200,000; pay $50,000 per year for its operations; pay $10,000 per year to maintain a kiosk; pay for signage on Highways 17 and 285; hire between 60 and 80 percent San Luis Valley residents in certain construction workforce categories and pay a fine if unable to meet the employment promise, stated Green in a March 19 letter.

SolarReserve is proposing to make commercially reasonable efforts to hire construction labor locally and require their contractors and subcontractors to do the same as long as local resources are qualified; increase VIC funding to $175,000; provide an annual VIC operating budget of $50,000 for a period of four years, starting when the first tower being producing; and provide signs on the highways and in the town of Center, according to Green.

“They are making reasonable efforts for local hiring,” said Saguache County Commissioner Mike Spearman. “They are not coming up with a mechanism, just their trust. I don’t know if we can do that.”

He again applauded the company’s $200,000 job training funding and presented potential plans for including Trinidad State Junior College as a resource.

“TSJC could set this up and create tests for this,” Spearman said. “For example, a welder. The test could tell us how qualified that person is. By the time the project is here, we could already have people trained.”

He also commented on the possibilities local contractors will have to bid on the project.

“This is a reason for local contractors to get creative and figure out a way,” Spearman said. “This is what I hope to see and this is what I hope will happen.”

During the Tuesday meeting, the commissioners also reviewed a set of counter conditions SolarReserve submitted on March 19. The county originally prepared a list of 33 conditions, which Saguache County staff, SolarReserve and Russell Planning and Engineering Senior Planner Nancy Lauro, the county’s engineering consultant, fine tuned and included or located in either the development agreement or the permit application.

Out of the 10 counter conditions, Saguache County Commissioner Linda Joseph asked for clarification of two: on-site lighting regulations and emergency services.

Joseph, supported by Saguache County Commissioner Sam Pace, requested further information on the proposed facility’s lighting plan, specifically in regards to Saguache County dark sky compatible codes and guidelines.

Her second concern was emergency response access inside the heliostat field. Hundreds of mirrors will surround the molten salt tower with little space for emergency vehicles that will be able to access the facility from the north and the south.

The conditions will be approved before the development agreement and permit application are acted upon.

Areas that still require attention are landfill use, potential external legal review and updated insurance information.

Saguache County staff, SolarReserve and Lauro will revise the development agreement for the commissioners to review before Monday’s meeting.

SolarReserve, a California-based company, is proposing 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.