Solar farm near Woody Creek comes to life after contentious process

The first 50 energy-absorbing panels were installed on Tuesday at a controversial 35-acre solar farm near Woody Creek, about a year and nine months after the project was approved.

Thousands more panels will follow over the next few weeks, while electricity generated by the sun from the upper Roaring Fork Valley is expected to be routed to Holy Cross Energy transmission lines by October, the researchers said on Tuesday. responsible for construction.

“It’s a win,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman, who lives in the neighborhood across Highway 82 from directly on the solar farm. “Residents of Pitkin County and the Town of Aspen will benefit from a local power source that provides resilience when our only power line is threatened by a wildfire or other disaster – as we’ve seen. recently with the fire at Lake Christine ”.

Contractors from Oakland, Calif., Based Primergy Solar, which builds and will operate the farm, have installed the poles that will hold the solar panels in recent weeks, although the panels have been stuck on a cargo ship anchored off the port of Long Beach. in Los Angeles awaiting delivery, said Aurelio Trejo, construction supervisor.

By Tuesday, enough modules had arrived for workers to start installing the first row of solar panels, known as the “golden row,” he said. Once that row is complete, Primergy reps will inspect it as some sort of model for the rest of the farm and approve it provided it meets specifications, Trejo said.

The 35 acres located off Stevens Way on the north side of the Rio Grande Trail in the Woody Creek area belong to the Aspen Sewerage District, which has used the property for 30 years to dispose of treated sewage under ‘a federal permit. Primergy will lease the property to the Health District, which will also receive a 33% energy credit from Holy Cross on the district’s estimated electricity bill at $ 280,000 per year. The credit will increase over the following years and allow customers in the district to save money, district officials said.

Holy Cross, which has committed to producing 70% of the energy it supplies from renewable sources by 2030, will have an option to purchase the solar farm in 10 years.

“We feel good about it,” Bryan Hannegan, president and CEO of Holy Cross, said on Tuesday of the panels being installed. “We have been looking forward to this project since it was approved by the county commissioners. We can’t wait to bring cleaner energy to the Roaring Fork Valley.

The former industrial use of the property, the location of the Holy Cross transmission lines within half a mile of the site and the fact that it is under the flight path of Aspen Airport – making any potential accommodation unlikely – means its location is ideal, proponents have said.

Residents of Brush Creek Village – which will face directly onto the solar park across Highway 82 – as well as people who live in Woody Creek and the W / J Ranch subdivision objected to the project when it was examined by the Commissioners in November. 2019. Many have expressed their opposition to the visual impacts of the project – which some say would reduce the value of their homes – as well as the impacts on wildlife in the area.

However, many others, including a large contingent of young people from the upper valley, strongly supported the project. And the commissioners themselves – who have always declared their commitment to tackling climate change – voted unanimously to approve the farm at the November 2019 meeting.

Initially, the plan was to build around 18,000 solar panels at the site, which were to generate 5 megawatts of electricity – enough electricity to power around 900 homes, according to a Sainte-Croix official.

On Tuesday, Trejo said Primergy planned to install 13,700 solar panels at the site. The panels are black instead of blue to reduce reflected light for flying planes and neighbors, while they are double-sided so they can absorb the energy reflected from snow on the ground in winter, a he declared.

“These are top quality panels,” he said.

A tracking system will allow the panels to move during the day and track the sun as it moves across the sky.

The high-end solar panel system allowed the Trejo team to install it without having to level the entire 35 acres. This, in turn, saved environmental impacts such as creating dust on the site, Trejo said.

Once Primergy officials approve construction of the golden row in a few weeks, contractors will begin installing the rest of the panels, Trejo said. This is expected to last until about mid-September, when electricians will come in and connect the panels to the Sainte-Croix transmission lines.

The panels are expected to produce power around the end of October, he said.

“It’s exciting,” Trejo said.

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About Lois Mendez

Lois Mendez

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