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SolarReserve gains support

Modified: Saturday, Mar 23rd, 2013

The Crescent Dunes Project completed its first tower in December 2012. Should SolarReserve secure a power purchase agreement, similar towers will be on their way to the Valley. Photo courtesy of SolarReserve

Courier staff writer

VALLEY — A number of Valley entities are standing up for the Saguache County permitted SolarReserve project that only needs transmission access to start tapping into the sun’s energy.

Over the past few weeks, SolarReserve Senior Development Manager Adam Green has either received or been promised letters of support from various Valley groups with hope they will help open up transmission possibilities. Supporters to date include Saguache County, the Town of Center, the Center Conservation District, the Center Consolidated School District, the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, Alamosa County, Costilla County, the Monte Vista City Council and the Alamosa City Council. State Senators Gail Schwartz and Larry Crowder, and Action 22 also agree they want to see the project become a reality.

“No one has turned us down yet,” Green said. “There has been a very positive reception.”

In 2012, the Saguache County Commissioners approved the California-based solar company 1041 conditional land use permit application to pursue construction of a 200-megawatt solar power-generating 100 percent clean energy facility north of Center. The project consists of two 100 MW 656-foot tall solar thermal power generating units based on emerging concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technology and energy storage. After negotiating with the county for nearly two years, the approval grants SolarReserve the ability to obtain a power purchase agreement, which is needed before ground is broken.

The company is pursuing negotiations with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and is after a “carve out” under Section 123 of Xcel Energy’s Electric Resource Plan. Section 123 states that the PUC gives full consideration to innovative renewable technologies like CSP with storage capabilities. In 2009, the PUC granted a 200-megawatt CSP “carve out,” which prompted SolarReserve to consider a project in the state.

The 2009 opportunity was never realized because the technology at the time was found “unsuited for Colorado,” according to Green. Today, Xcel will not consider a power purchase agreement with SolarReserve unless it comes from a PUC mandate because of low gas prices. The PUC should make a decision later at the end of the year.

“The PUC’s interpretation of Section 123 in Xcels’ Electric Resource Plan is crucial,” Green said. “It is the only way to recognize important externalities.”

Located on about 4,000-acres of a larger 6,200-acre area of privately owned county land located between Saguache County Roads D and G and 53 and 57, SolarReserve could easily tap into the existing 230kV transmission line because it runs through the property.

The company has a similar project underway on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property in Tonopah, Nev., which should top out at 700 workers, a number higher than anticipated. The Crescent Dunes Project has yet to encounter any problems with technology, the environment or the community, according to Green.

“This is a very remote place, and out of 2,000 people we have more than 30 people from Tonopah employed,” Green said.

The development agreement SolarReserve signed with Saguache County stipulates the company will make “reasonable efforts to hire applicants” through the six Valley counties for construction jobs; the company will pay a $50,000 one-time operational shortfall fee if there not enough local hires; and $200,000 for local training programs to develop skills essential to the project. Trinidad State Junior College, Adams State University, the Center Consolidated School District and San Luis Valley Development Resources Group Director Mike Wisdom have already entered into discussions around creating such programs.

“These are not only good, long term jobs, but stable career jobs,” Green said.

The company also plans to spend the majority of its $5 million budget between the San Juans and the Sangres.

“It will be spent here,” Green said. “It is diversification and stabilization of the economy.”

In addition, SolarReserve agreed to provide $175,000 for a Visitor Information Center (VIC) in the town of Center; furnish an annual VIC operating budget of $50,000 for a period of four years, starting when the first tower begins drawing revenue; and provide signs on the highways and in the town of Center.

“The idea is to bring people to town and have them spend money,” Green said.

Other project benefits include $425,000 annual property taxes; bringing 50 full time jobs per tower to Saguache County; hiring 40 percent Saguache County residents for operational jobs; and voluntarily reducing water use at the site. The project will also take 38 agricultural circles out of production, reducing water consumption from 6,300 acre-feet per year to 150 acre-feet per year.

It is anticipated that the project will be completed in two phases with commercial operation dates no earlier than June 1, 2014, and June 1, 2015, respectively.

The project is based on concentrating solar-thermal power generation technology that concentrates the sun’s rays, heating a working fluid (molten salt) that captures and stores the heat. Heat is used separately to create steam to drive a conventional turbine-generator to produce electricity. The proposed concentrating solar-thermal power technology uses heliostats (tracking mirrors) arranged in a roughly circular array around a central tower to focus sunlight onto a thermal receiver at the top of the tower.

The molten salt storage provides a buffer, capturing and storing thermal energy when the sun is shining or during cloudy and overcast days in a process that is decoupled from electricity generation. The stored thermal energy allows the generator to produce electricity when needed to meet demand on the electricity grid, not only when the sun is shining.

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